INDIANAPOLIS — Katie Ledecky is a steady swimmer who is rarely surprised by results and always sets and sticks to her goals.
Earlier this month, the International Olympic Committee threw a bit of a wrench into all of that planning — but in a good way.
The IOC announced that it has added three swimming events to the 2020 Olympic program: Men’s 800-meter freestyle, women’s 1,500-meter freestyle and a 4x100-meter medley mixed-gender relay.
For the first time in modern Olympic history, both male and female swimmers will swim the exact same distance events. And the Games now will include the 1,500, another event in which Ledecky, already the world’s most dominant swimmer, owns the world record time (15:25.48). She set that record, beating the second-place finisher by 15 seconds, at the 2015 world championships in Kazan, Russia.
The opportunity to swim the 1,500 as part of an Olympic program already loaded with freestyle and relay events will be something Ledecky has to figure out. She said she will discuss it in the coming months and years with her coach, Stanford’s Greg Meehan. If she added it to what she swam in Rio — the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles plus the 4x100 and 4x200 free relays — she’d have a chance to take home six medals in Tokyo.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet. (Ledecky would never do such a thing herself.) Let’s start with the news of the additional event in general, and how pleased Ledecky is by that.
“I was happy to see it,” Ledecky, 20, said prior to the start of the U.S. national championships here this week. “I think adding the 1,500 was a long time coming, and it’s good that there’s (equality) and the men’s and women’s distance events now. Certainly, I don’t know how it will factor into my swimming moving forward; that’s something I’ll have to talk to Greg about. That’s a discussion we haven’t had yet, really, about 2020 goals. Obviously the 1,500 will have to be in that discussion and see how that will play into the schedule. It makes things more challenging — it’s a challenging race, it’s a fun race, I like it. So personally, I know I’ll have to have some focus on it moving forward.”
As Ledecky has torn through the record books over the years, she’s become even more of a student of the sport — and those who have come before her. For example, she and her family have built and maintained a relationship with Debbie Meyer, who until 2016, was the only woman to win three individual freestyle gold medals in one Olympics — which she did in 1968.
So, part of what Ledecky appreciates most about the IOC’s decision was that it challenges the status quo, and the state of swimming in the early 21st century. And it respects female swimmers in a way they haven’t always been respected.
“It’s good that the sport isn’t static; the world isn’t static,” Ledecky said. “If you look at the history of swimming, events have been added over time. Women had a lot fewer races back in the day. I have met some female swimmers who swam in the ‘60s and didn’t have the opportunities we have now with events. I think there were only the 100 and 400 free at one point.
“So, over time, more events have been added. The 1,500 fits right in there this year. It’s a good opportunity for swimmers moving forward, and hopefully it will encourage some young swimmers to try distance swimming.”