I would encourage you to set really high goals. Set goals that, when you set them, you think they’re impossible. But then every day you can work towards them, and anything is possible, so keep working hard and follow your dreams. Katie Ledecky
Katie Ledecky was born on March 17, 1997 in Bethesda, Maryland to parents Mary Gen Hagen and David Ledecky. Mary Gen was a top 20 ranked collegiate swimmer in the 200 yard freestyle at the University of New Mexico and former administrator of Georgetown Hospital. David worked many years at Kirkland & Ellis law firm as an attorney. Katie has one older brother named Michael whom she followed into swimming at the age of six. Together they swam at the Palisades Swim & Tennis Club. At the age of 10, Katie began swimming for Nation’s Capital Swim Club (formally the Curl Burke Swim Club) under coach Yuri Suguiyama who helped Katie reach Olympic Gold at age 15. After 2012, Katie moved under a new coach in Bruce Gemmell.
London Olympics (2012)
In 2012, Katie exploded onto the swimming scene in Omaha during her first senior national meet, the Olympic Trials. She entered into the 200, 400 and 800 meter freestyle events. She took third place in the 400 meter free final but missed qualifying for the Olympics by one spot. It was the 800 meter free where she’d make her mark, winning first with a time of 8:19.78 and becoming the youngest athlete in the entire U.S. delegation at the London games at just 15 years old.
In London she qualified third for the 800m final behind Rebecca Adlington, the defending champion at the time and Lotte Friis with a time of 8:23.84. It was during the final that Katie shocked the world when she beat the field by more than four seconds, finishing with a time of 8:14.63, the second fastest in history. She also broke Janet Evans’ American record of 8:16.22 which had stood since 1989. This was the first international gold medal of her career and the beginning of what would become a legendary career.
Barcelona World Championships (2013)
Upon returning home from London, Katie began swimming under her new coach Bruce Gemmell at Nation’s Capital Swim Club. She continued putting on phenomenal races and flirting with world record times. Her next big stage was the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona where she qualified for the 200, 400, 800 and 1500 meter freestyle events and also made the 4×200 free relay team. She ended up dropping the 200m free.
On her first World Championship team, Katie ended up going 4-for-4 winning gold medals in all of her events while setting a couple of records. In the 400m free she finished with a time of 3:59.92, becoming just the second woman ever to go sub four minutes and setting a new American record. In the 1500 meter she set her first ever world record with a time of 15:36.53, shattering it by six seconds.
In her final individual race, the 800m free, she broke Rebecca Adlington’s world record of 8:14.10 by finishing in 8:13.86. She also swam the first leg of the 4×200 relay putting in a personal best time of 1:56.32.
Gold Coast Pan Pacs (2014)
At the 2014 Pan Pacs Katie continued to better herself. She swept the field in the freestyle events from 200 meters and up. She also became the first woman to win four individual gold medals at a single Pan Pacs and even picked up a fifth gold medal in the 4×200 free relay. Katie set two more world records during these championships.
Her first two gold medals came less than an hour apart. She won both the 200m and 800m freestyle races with times of 1:55.74, a new meet record, and 8:11.35 also a new meet record and just off her world record of 8:11.00. The next day she anchored the American team in the 4×200 relay, having to erase a 1.2 second deficit heading into the final leg she put up a split of 1:54.36 to come out on top. The team finished in 7:46.40 which was also a new meet record. In the 400m prelims she set a fourth meet record with a time of 4:03.09. She followed that up in the finals by lowering her own world record to 3:58.37. She finished six seconds ahead of second place.
In the 1500 meter, she destroyed her own world record by nearly six seconds with a time of 15:28.36. She lapped three other swimmers in the pool and finished more than 27 seconds ahead of second place. National Team Director Frank Busch described Ledecky’s 1500 performance as “the most impressive race I have ever seen, and I’ve been in the sport for 50 years…. She’s blazing a completely different trail than anyone who has come before”. Katie was named the female swimmer of the meet.
Kazan World Championships (2015)
During the 2015 World Champions in Kazan, Katie put on one of the greatest single performances in history, winning five gold medals and breaking three world records. She won gold in the 200, 400, 800, and 1500-meter freestyles becoming the first woman to win four individual freestyle events.
In the 400m free she set a new championship record time of 3:59.13, blowing away everyone by almost four seconds. In the preliminary round of the 1500-meter free she lowered her own world record down to 15:27.71 and followed it up in the final where she shattered it again by more than two seconds with a time of 15:25.48.
In one of her closest races yet, she out touched the field in the 200-meter free winning by 0.16 seconds with a time of 1:55.16 holding off Federica Pellegrini and Missy Franklin.
Katie completed these World Championships with a new world record in the 800-meter free. She demolished her previous record by 3.61 seconds finishing in 8:07.39.
Rio Olympics (2016)
Heading into her second Olympic games, Katie was the favorite to win golds in the 200, 400 and 800 meter freestyle events which she qualified for during the Olympic trials in Omaha. She was still the youngest member of the USA Swim Team at 19 years old and remained undefeated in individual events at international competitions with a perfect record of 12-of-12. Katie would continue her dominance on the Olympic stage by winning four gold medals, one silver medal and breaking two more world records.
Her first gold medal came in the 400m freestyle where she broke her own world record with a time of 3:56.46 and finished ahead of everyone else by almost 5 seconds. In her second and closest race, the 200m freestyle, Katie out sprinted Sarah Sjöström by 0.35 seconds, putting in a personal best time of 1:53.73. She also anchored the American team to another gold medal In the 4×200 free relay by making up a one second deficit in the final leg by splitting a 1:53.74.
In her final race in Rio, Katie was ready to defend her 800m freestyle gold from four years ago in London. Katie set an Olympic record in the prelims by going 8:12.86. Then in the final, she shattered her own world record again with a time of 8:04.79, finishing 11 seconds ahead of the silver medalist Jazz Carlin. Katie became the first woman to win gold in the 200, 400 and 800-meter freestyle events since Debbie Meyer in 1968. She was also the 2nd most decorated Olympian at the 2016 games behind Michael Phelps.
Stanford Freshman Year (2017)
After returning home from Rio, Katie Ledecky began attending Stanford University in the fall and set out on one of the most historic freshman seasons in collegiate sports history. She would set and re-set the NCAA record 12 times and the American record nine times.
Katie helped lead Stanford to a Pac-12 Championship where she won four individual titles in the 500 free, 400 IM, 400 free relay and 800 free relay. At NCAA’s, Katie and Stanford won their first team title in 19 years. Katie won five individual titles sweeping the 200, 500 and 1650 freestyle events as well as winning the 400 and 800 free relays.
After the season ended, Katie was named the Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year and was the runner-up as the Student Athlete of the Year. She was also awarded the prestigious Honda Cup by the Collegiate Women’s Sports Awards (CWSA).
Budapest World Championships (2017)
Katie made her third straight World Championship team in 2017. Heavily favored to win gold in her usual freestyle events from 200 to 1500 meters, Katie had the potential to become just the second woman ever to win six golds at a single Worlds.
Katie would win individual golds in the 400, 800 and 1500-meter freestyle events but lost her first international race in the 200m free to Federica Pelligrini of Italy. She would tie for second place with Australia’s Emma McKeon. Katie won both relays she’s participated in, the 4×100 and 4×100 freestyle relays.
Although Katie did not break any World records at this international meet for the first time since London, she still swam the second fastest 400m free in history and the fourth fastest 1500m free. Katie also surpassed Missy Franklin with her 14th World Championship gold medal, the most all time by a female swimmer.
Katie walked away from this meet with five gold medals and one silver, the most medals she had ever won at a single World Championships or any international meet for that matter. Even though Katie herself said that it was not her best week, she still proved that she’s number one in the world and far ahead of the competition.