Katie Ledecky isn’t just an Olympian; she’s one of the most gifted athletes in the world. The swimmer wowed the world in 2012 when she competed in her first Olympics at just 15 and won a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle competition. Her win was made even more impressive by the fact that, per her Team USA bio, she was the youngest person on the team. Since then, she’s become an Olympics mainstay, competing in Rio and Tokyo in 2016 and 2021 after the 2020 Olympics were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ledecky is famous not only for racking up half a dozen Olympic medals but also because she rarely ever loses. And when she wins, she wins big: A 2016 profile on Ledecky in The Washington Post noted that she wins by almost incomprehensibly large margins, not just inching past her competition but leaving them in the dust. “She’s the greatest athlete in the world today by far,” anesthesiologist and researcher Michael J. Joyner told the outlet, adding that Ledecky is “dominating by the widest margin in international sport, winning by 1 or 2%.”
To top it off, the athlete is immensely likable, with fans admiring her humility and work ethic. Whether you’ve followed Ledecky’s career for years or have just heard of her, learning the truth about this impressive athlete might just turn you into a lifelong fan.
Katie Ledecky has smashed a lot of records
Winning gold at the Olympics is a big deal, but even knowing that Katie Ledecky has won six gold medals at the Games doesn’t provide a complete picture of just how good she truly is. Per her Team USA profile, over the years, she’s actually racked up 15 gold and three silver medals at the world championships, to be precise.
Ledecky also holds three world swimming records in the 400-meter and 800-meter events, as well as in the 1500-meter events, per ESPN. In fact, the outlet noted that, in 2018, she broke her own record for the 1,500-meter freestyle, shaving five seconds off her score. No one in the history of female swimming has won as many awards as Ledecky. “She is rare, and I doubt we’ll see anyone like her for a long time,” fellow Olympic swimmer Rebecca Adlington told The Florida Times-Union.
Katie Ledecky's incredible stats have drawn accusations of steroid use
Katie Ledecky’s track record is impressive — so much so that some people over the years have been skeptical that she could have accomplished all of her impressive feats on her own. Her record-breaking times have drawn accusations of steroid use, even though there’s no proof of her doping. In 2016, ESPN reported that Ledecky had gone through dozens of doping controls, not only in the U.S. but also at international competitions, never failing a single one.
Ledecky has held her head up in the midst of all the suspicion, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t bothered her. Not only is she adamant that she doesn’t use any banned substances, but she’s also not thrilled with how people who are caught doping are treated. “It’s annoying and frustrating when you see athletes that do dope and sometimes they’re not punished harshly enough,” she said. “It has never crossed my mind to dope. It’s not who I am.”
Katie Ledecky comes from a close-knit family
A supportive family isn’t necessary for success, but it does help. In that, Katie Ledecky is particularly blessed. The Olympian comes from a close-knit family who has her back no matter what. “I’m lucky to have a family that loves me whether I swim really well or swim poorly, or don’t swim at all,” she told The Stanford Daily.
Ledecky shares an especially close relationship with her big brother, Michael, who spoke admiringly of his little sister to Vogue. He made it clear that he sees her as a sister, first and foremost, rather than as an internationally-famous athlete. “She’s extraordinarily ordinary in some respects,” he said, adding that she “doesn’t let the extraneous things … get in her way.” Ledecky, for her part, credits her brother’s work ethic as an inspiration. “I’ve always looked up to my brother, for how hard he works,” she said. “I started swimming with him, and we had a lot of fun.”
Katie Ledecky learned to swim because of a nearly fatal accident
A lot of parents put their kids in swimming lessons just in case they ever find themselves in the deep end of a pool, caught in a riptide, or — more improbably — shipwrecked. Swimming can save your life, something that Katie Ledecky’s mother knows all too well. Ledecky was enrolled in swimming lessons because her mother, Mary Gen, had been put into lessons, herself, as a child after her older sister nearly drowned, as noted by ESPN.
Learning the life-saving skill turned into a family tradition, with all of Mary Gen’s siblings learning how to swim. The outlet noted that Mary Gen excelled at the sport and went on to join the swim team at the University of New Mexico. Per the Albuquerque Journal, Mary Gen was a nationally-ranked swimmer whose freestyle skills qualified her for nationals three times. Once she had kids of her own, she decided to put both of them into swimming lessons as well. Both Ledecky and her brother, Michael, proved to be talented at the sport. While Michael didn’t go on to be an Olympian, he did swim throughout high school. Clearly, swimming genes run strong in the Ledecky family!
This is why Katie Ledecky quit sports other than swimming
The world has known for years that Katie Ledecky is a powerhouse in the pool, but what many don’t realize is that swimming isn’t the only sport in which her skills reign supreme. In her younger years, before she decided to pursue a future in swimming, she played other sports, including basketball and soccer. Given her athletic prowess, it’s safe to assume that she was also gifted both on the court and on the field, but Ledecky eventually realized that she needed to focus her skills on her true passion. She told Bethesda Magazine that, at the age of 9 or 10, she began to recognize her prodigious talent in swimming and “started dropping other sports.” She added that this wasn’t necessarily “a conscious decision,” but, rather, a realization that occurred gradually as she “started … focusing more on [her] swimming.”
An injury, however, is what really cemented Ledecky’s decision to prioritize swimming over other sports. As she told ESPN, after she broke her arm in gym class she realized future injuries could impact her future in swimming. “That’s kind of when I started thinking, ‘I really like swimming. I’m going to not risk playing other sports,'” she explained.
'Failing spectacularly' is key to Katie Ledecky's success
Katie Ledecky works hard to accomplish her goals, but she’s not what you would call a perfectionist, per se. In fact, she takes a very healthy approach to training and competition, acknowledging that failure is not only a part of life but also something to learn from. As she explained to Forbes, she trains hard but recognizes that “even the bad days have something good that comes out of them.”
It’s a philosophy passed on to her from her coaches, who told her that she “fail[s] spectacularly in practice.” This doesn’t bother Ledecky; rather, it motivates her. “That’s something that I actually work toward,” she said.
Ledecky is always working to improve, something her coach, Bruce Gemmell, told Swim Swam is the key to her success. He explained that Ledecky’s “strength is not in any physical attribute” or “any particular technique.” Instead, it’s her ability to keep pushing herself and overcome her failures until she succeeds. “It’s her overwhelming desire to do what she needs to do to get better,” he told the publication.
Katie Ledecky has embraced being a role model
Winning Olympic gold at 15 and becoming one of the most famous swimmers of all time would have been enough to turn Katie Ledecky into a celebrity, but her down-to-earth, wholesome demeanor has also made her an exceptional role model for millions all over the world. While this might be daunting to some who find themselves in such a position, Ledecky has taken it in stride. “I take great responsibility to use [my platform] in the right ways, with the right people, and for the right people,” Ledecky told The Stanford Daily.
Ledecky’s many accolades include being named one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in 2016 and making it to AP’s list of top female athletes of the 2010s. Her social media following is booming, too, with nearly half a million followers on Instagram and over 160,000 on Twitter, as of this writing.
Ledecky’s advice for young people who look up to her? Having goals whether in swimming or another dream. “Education is really important, so I remind kids to read a lot, study hard, do your work,” she told The Guardian, adding that it’s also important for children to look up to heroes in their own communities, such as doctors and teachers. “If kids can appreciate those people more than sports figures and hear that message coming from athletes, it can mean a lot,” she said.
Katie Ledecky earned a degree from Stanford
Many people were skeptical when Katie Ledecky announced her decision to go to college. As ESPN pointed out, she was potentially giving up millions of dollars by going to school instead of turning pro, but that didn’t bother her (likely because she had already racked up an impressive net worth). So, Ledecky started classes at Stanford University in 2016 after competing in her second Olympics. “I’m not concerned about money at this point,” she told the outlet when she was 19. “I enjoy representing my team, my country, my family, myself. I don’t think at my age I need to represent something more than that.”
Attending college and putting off going pro so she could remain eligible to swim on a college team had always been Ledecky’s plan. “That’s definitely something I want to do,” she told Bethesda Magazine in 2012. Per ESPN, she did swim for Stanford for a couple of years, although she turned pro after the 2017-2018 season. Ledecky finished up her degree virtually, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. The political science and psychology major graduated from Stanford in 2020, as noted by Insider.
This is how Katie Ledecky avoids feeling pressure
Being an Olympic athlete is pressure-inducing, and being one of the most celebrated athletes in the world, even more so. No one could blame Katie Ledecky for feeling like she was under constant pressure, especially after being thrust into the spotlight at such a young age. Yet, miraculously, her fame and lofty goals don’t induce panic in her.
The key to avoiding feeling pressure, she told Vogue, is planning. “I really don’t feel [pressure],” she said. “I’ve just always set goals. When I was a kid, I would write them down, and I would work toward them, and that’s still pretty much what I do.”
When it comes to setting those goals, Ledecky isn’t afraid to go big. In fact, her advice is to shoot for the moon. “Set goals that, when you set them, you think they’re impossible,” she told Today. “But then every day you can work towards them, and anything is possible so keep working hard and follow your dreams.”
Faith keeps Katie Ledecky grounded
Katie Ledecky has a strong support system and is goal-oriented, both of which have helped her accomplish extraordinary feats at a young age. But those aren’t the only things keeping her rooted. From an early age, Ledecky was grounded in her Catholic faith, and this faith was only reinforced by attending Catholic schools through high school. As she told the Catholic Standard (via Religion News Service), Catholicism “is part of who I am and I feel comfortable practicing my faith.”
Ledecky noted that her faith has been a strong presence in her competitive career. In fact, prayer is another thing that helps her keep stress at bay. “More than anything, praying just helps me to concentrate and let go of things that don’t matter in that moment,” she told the Northern Catholic Register (via The Irish Times). “It gives me peace knowing I’m in good hands.”
Katie Ledecky borrowed a pool to practice during the pandemic
Katie Ledecky is serious about training and refuses to let anything — not even a pandemic — get in her way. When the 2020 Summer Olympics were moved to 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the athlete found herself quarantined far away from her family and without access to training facilities because of lockdowns. While some athletes may have been tempted to take some time off from training, or perhaps not train quite so hard, Ledecky rose to the challenge.
As she explained to the New York Post, she trained in the backyard pool of Tod Spieker, a former college All-American swimmer she met through one of her coaches. Ledecky trained alongside Team USA member Simone Manuel, saying, “We thought it was going to be a very temporary thing, maybe a couple of days. We ended up staying for three months.”
Spieker told the outlet that he was happy to lend the use of his pool to a couple of strangers. “There was no way in hell I was going to deny these inspiring Olympians and gold medalists to train when I had a pool sitting there,” he said. Wow, Katie, feel free to use our pool any time you’d like.
Will Katie Ledecky ever retire?
Professional athletes often retire young, as their strenuous lifestyle takes a toll — in fact, swimming every day has various effects on the body. SwimmerPro notes that the average swimmer peaks in their early 20s, although there have been instances of Olympians competing in their 30s and 40s. Will Katie Ledecky be one of them?
While it seems like she’s been in the public eye forever, don’t forget that she was only 15 when she made her Olympic debut in 2012, noted Swimmer Pro, and, so, she’s still quite young. Given Ledecky’s substantial talent and determination, it seems likely that she will defy the odds and compete for years to come.
Ledecky, herself, certainly has no plans of retiring. “I’m going to continue to swim beyond 2020, hopefully to at least 2024 and maybe beyond to 2028,” she told NBC of her Olympic goals. While Ledecky will be 31 in 2028, there’s no reason she won’t be able to compete then if she so wishes. As the Olympics website notes, Michael Phelps — another swimming prodigy whose name is often mentioned alongside Ledecky’s — also competed in his first Olympics at the age of 15 and continued until age 31. Then there’s Dara Torres who, at 41, made history as the oldest swimmer to ever compete in the Olympics (via Today). For now, though, like Ledecky said, we’ll just have to wait and see what the future holds for the talented swimmer.
Katie Ledecky has future plans beyond swimming
While Katie Ledecky may not have any immediate plans to retire, it’s certain that she will retire one day. While swimming has been a huge part of her life, she does have a lot of plans for her future. Don’t forget that she’s a Stanford alum, and a diploma from the prestigious institution will open a lot of doors for her. She also hopes to rack up more degrees, although she’s unsure what she wants to pursue just yet. As she told The Washington Post, she has a lot of interests and is considering continuing her education in business or law school someday.
Whatever Ledecky does after she leaves competitive swimming, we’re sure it will be impressive. Her family has a long history of academic and professional success. Per ESPN, her maternal grandfather was a World War II combat surgeon, while her paternal grandfather held a doctorate in mathematics. Ledecky’s mother is a former hospital administrator, while her father is an attorney who graduated from Harvard and Yale Law. “The way our parents believe in education,” her dad told the outlet, “It was a no-brainer Katie wasn’t going to turn professional [instead of going to college].”
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