Wed, Aug 12, 2015 - Page 19 News List

Ledecky crowns herself czarina at Kazan

AP, KAZAN, Russia

Katie Ledecky of the US poses with her trophy for female swimmer of the championships, at the FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, on Sunday.

Photo: Reuters

Katie Ledecky is ready to enjoy a week off. She has certainly earned it.

With five gold medals and three records at the world swimming championships, Ledecky stamped herself as a huge favorite heading into next year’s Olympics.

She swept the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m freestyles in Kazan, in addition to anchoring the victorious 4x200m free relay. The 18-year-old American is 9-0 in finals at world meets, having won four golds and set two world records in 2013 at Barcelona.

“After Barcelona, I set my goals for these last couple years, and I have a little ways to go still,” she said. “I’m chipping away at those goals, and this is a really great stepping-stone toward Olympic trials.”

That meet in July next year is to decide the US team for the Rio de Janeiro Games. The 1,500m is not an Olympic event, so Ledecky may look to add the 100m free to her busy schedule in Brazil, plus the relays.

She basically swam against herself in Kazan. Ledecky won the 400m by 3.89 seconds, the 800m by 10.26 seconds and the 1,500m by 14.66 seconds. Her closest race was the 200m, when she rallied from fourth to win by 0.16 seconds. She was named female swimmer of the meet.

“It’s almost to the point where I’m not surprised,” her coach Bruce Gemmell said. “She’s such a beautiful natural swimmer.”

In a 24-hour span, Ledecky set back-to-back world records in the 1,500m. As if that was not impressive enough, she returned the next night to win the 200m against a stellar field.

“We laugh about how she’s going to retire some men in this sport continuing to swim that fast,” US national team director Frank Busch said. “She’s doing things that are unprecedented in our sport.”

Such utter domination has sent expectations soaring for the recent high-school graduate from suburban Washington, who has yet to even get a driver’s license. Ledecky remains oblivious to it all.

“I kind of try to keep the same mindset I had going into 2012 — no expectations, no pressure and whatever happens, happens,” she said. “I know my family and my coaches will all help me maintain that mindset.”

Her support system was in Kazan, with her parents, brother and uncle cheering in the stands.

At the daily US women’s team meeting, coaches congratulated anyone who swam a personal-best time and the team showered that person with applause. Ledecky received the most cheers; of course, her best times just happened to be jaw-dropping world records.

“Whenever she swims, she just has this ability to lift the entire team spirit,” said Missy Franklin, Ledecky’s teammate who won five medals in Kazan. “That’s so, so special. It’s just been amazing watching her this whole time and I think all of us know there’s only brighter things to come in her future.”

A typical training day for Ledecky involves morning and afternoon practices three days a week. She mixes in dry land training that focuses on strength, flexibility and injury prevention three times a week. She usually swims up to 6,000m in the morning. A hard training session would add another 2,000m.

“We’ve found some small things I can work on to try and improve,” she said. “It’s about trying to get faster. I’m very motivated.”

Gemmell has instilled in Ledecky the belief that relaxed swimming results in optimal performances. In the water, she focuses on keeping her stroke, rhythm and tempo the same throughout the longer races.

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