Ledecky looks to fu­ture as high stan­dards drop

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS -

BU­DA­PEST — OK, it wasn’t like Katie Ledecky was a flop at the world cham­pi­onships.

Far from it. She won five gold medals. She took sil­ver in her other event.

“If that was my bad year for the next four years, then the next cou­ple of years are go­ing to be pretty ex­cit­ing,” Ledecky de­clared.

But her per­for­mance in Bu­da­pest did prove one thing — she is hu­man.

Ledecky failed to set a per­sonal best in any of her races, while a run­ner-up fin­ish in the 200m freestyle was the 20-year-old’s first in­di­vid­ual de­feat in a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional race.

“I al­ways wish there was more,” Ledecky said. “I’ve never walked away from a sea­son com­pletely sat­is­fied, even last year (af­ter win­ning four golds at the Rio Olympics). You al­ways are look­ing and mov­ing for­ward.”

She was cer­tainly due for a let­down.

Ever since a stun­ning break­through at the 2012 Lon­don Olympics, when she won the 800m free as a 15-year-old, Ledecky’s tra­jec­tory has been noth­ing but up, up, up.

In 2013, she won four golds at the worlds in Barcelona, set­ting a pair of world records. Two years later in Kazan, she swept every freestyle from 200 to 1500m, set­ting two more world records. Two more world records fell last sum­mer in Brazil, trans­form­ing her into a fully fledged star.

But that wasn’t the only strik­ing change in Ledecky’s life.

Af­ter putting off col­lege for a year to fo­cus on the Olympics, the Wash­ing­ton, DC-area swim­mer moved across the coun­try for her fresh­man year at Stan­ford. It surely had some im­pact on her swim­ming.

Ledecky ac­knowl­edged that she “didn’t re­ally set as high of goals or have that same mo­ti­va­tion, just al­ways be­ing on and on and on”.

“Go­ing through a lot of tran­si­tions and changes this year, know­ing that I’ve gone through that now, I can re­ally take what I’ve learned and use it mov­ing for­ward,” Ledecky said.

She was cer­tainly over­shad­owed in Bu­da­pest.

Caeleb Dres­sel emerged as Amer­ica’s new­est sen­sa­tion with a record-ty­ing seven golds — three of them on the same night, the first swim­mer ever to ac­com­plish that feat at worlds.

“He’s in­cred­i­ble,” Ledecky said. “He’s such a great ath­lete and a great swim­mer. So young, too. He has so many great years ahead of him.”

Dres­sel is the same age as Ledecky. Chances are, they both have plenty of great years ahead of them.

But now, for per­haps the first time in her ca­reer, Ledecky is fac­ing a bit of a set­back, and it will be in­ter­est­ing to see how she bounces back.

She is now the win­ningest fe­male swim­mer in world cham­pi­onship his­tory with 14 gold medals — more than any­one ex­cept Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte.

Ledecky knows she’s ca­pa­ble of more.

“I’m happy with five golds and a sil­ver,” she said. “But there’s a lot of room for im­prove­ment, as crazy as that sounds. Mov­ing for­ward, I’m go­ing to be re­ally mo­ti­vated. I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to work­ing to­ward 2020 now.”

STE­FAN WERMUTH / REUTERS

Katie Ledecky of the US com­petes dur­ing the women’s 800m freestyle fi­nal.

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