The Olympian tells espnW’s Allison Glock how she went from swimming at the local pool as a way to meet friends to repeatedly smashing world records.
Stanford psychology major Katie Ledecky, 21, has 14 world records and five Olympic golds, the first coming in 2012 at just 15 years old. The world’s most dominant swimmer recently turned pro but has seemed professional for decades, because of her unerringly levelheaded demeanor and because she swims so far ahead of the competition it’s as if she’s in her own pool. She holds the world’s eight fastest times in the 1,500-meter freestyle and has shattered her own records by staggering margins. Her six-year, $7 million deal with swimwear company TYR and her 2018 cover of National Geographic, the first for a female Olympian, prove that nice girls not only finish first—they rule.
ESPN: Why swimming?
KATIE LEDECKY: My mom swam in college, but she never pushed me into the sport. She wanted me to feel comfortable in the water, so she taught my brother and me how to swim from a pretty early age. When I was 6, we joined a summer-league pool. We didn’t really know anybody, and my mom thought that the fastest way for us to meet people would be to join the swim team.
So your unrivaled swimming career started as a way to make friends?
[Laughs] Pretty much, yeah. I played a number of sports growing up. Basketball, soccer. I eventually realized that I was picking swimming over basketball practice. I also broke my arm playing basketball, so that may have contributed a little bit to it. [Laughs]
Did you have an immediate kinship with the water?
No. I didn’t drop into the pool on day one a great swimmer. For my first summer of league swimming, my only goal was to be able to do the 25 free without stopping to wipe my nose or catch my breath. And by the end of the summer, I was able to do that.
When did you first recognize how good you could be?
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December 2018/January 2019