The youngest competitor on the USA swimming team, Katie Ledecky, 19, is also arguably the most dominant swimmer in the pool. Having trained with male swimmers her entire career, the question is not whether Ledecky will be the next Michael Phelps, but rather, when she will achieve and eclipse that same superstar status.
She began swimming at age 6 when her older brother started taking lessons, and has been training with a group of mostly guys since starting with coach Bruce Gemmell after winning gold in the 2012 London Olympics. Even Phelps himself, who Ledecky met at an autograph signing at age 9, has said she “swims like a guy.”
Five years after meeting Phelps—one of her self-described “idols”—Ledecky was on the Olympic team with him.
Last year, at the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia, Ledecky became the first-ever swimmer to sweep the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle in international competition—all races in the freestyle category. The feat has been dubbed the “Ledecky Slam.”
That’s like a runner excelling in the 100m dash and the marathon.
USA Today called it “the sports feat of the decade.” Many are calling her “the future of USA Swimming.”
Ledecky also broke her own world records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle during the World Championship competition, as well as setting a new world record during a qualifying race—almost by accident. “I felt so relaxed,” Ledecky told reporters, “it just felt very easy and that’s why it surprised me that I had broken my world record.”
Unfortunately, since there is no women’s 1500m, Ledecky won’t be able to repeat this unique grand-slam performance in Rio, despite the fact that her time in the event is competitive with many male Olympians.
Yet the lack of a 1500m race in the Olympic roster may have been an advantage to Ledecky, pushing her to become dominant in shorter distance events as well. Her biggest competitors in the 400m and 200m races in Rio are predicted to be Australia's Emma McKeon and teammate Leah Smith, respectively.
And as for Phelps? He has no doubt about her rising star-status: “She knows what she’s doing, and it’s fun to watch her,” he told NBC Olympics.
If you can’t wait too see her in the 200m Freestyle, watch Ledecky tear it up in the 800m freestyle Rio trials: