Born in Maryland in 1997, Katie Ledecky began swimming competitively at age 6. After earning a berth on the U.S. Olympic team at age 15, she set an American record in the 800-meter freestyle to win a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Games. Ledecky has since remained unbeaten in all major international competition, shattering world records across an array of freestyle events ranging from 400 to 1,500 meters. At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, she dominated the pool, winning gold medals in the 400-meter freestyle in world record time, the 200-meter freestyle and the 4x200 meter freestyle relay, and silver in the 4x100 meter freestyle relay. She also broke the world record, winning gold in the 800-meter freestyle.
Early Years and Competitive Career
Kathleen Genevieve "Katie" Ledecky was born on March 17, 1997, in Bethesda, Maryland. The second child of David, a lawyer, and Mary Gen, a former collegiate swimmer and hospital administrator, she began swimming competitively at the Palisades Swim & Tennis Club at age 6, alongside her older brother, Michael.
With her seemingly insatiable appetite for pool activity, Ledecky became a standout at the Nation’s Capital Swim Club under coach Yuri Suguiyama. In 2011, Suguiyama began instructing Ledecky to kick more aggressively while racing, a technique commonly used by elite men's swimmers but rarely seen on the women's side. That summer, before the start of her freshman year at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, she dominated the U.S. Junior Championships with wins in the 400-, 800- and 1,500- meter freestyle events.
2012 Olympic Breakout
Katie Ledecky made her senior debut at the 2012 United States Olympic Trials, entering the 200-, 400- and 800-meter freestyles. The lack of top-level experience proved no obstacle for the 15-year-old, who surged to an eye-opening win in the 800m to become the youngest member of the U.S. team.
Her momentum continued through the competition at the 2012 London Games, where Ledecky paced her heat in the 800m. She then blew the competition out of the water in the final, breaking Janet Evans's 23-year-old American record with a time of 8:14.63 to win the gold medal.
Afterward, Ledecky displayed the easy confidence of someone who expected to win. “I knew if I put my mind to it, I could do it,” she said. “I wasn’t intimidated at all.”
World's Greatest Swimmer
Under the guidance of new coach Bruce Gemmell, Katie Ledecky showed that her 2012 Olympic performance was merely the tip of the iceberg. Proving capable of winning both middle- and long-distance events, she established world records in the 800- and 1,500-meter freestyles en route to four gold medals at the 2013 FINA World Championships. She claimed another four golds at the 2014 Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, and at the 2015 FINA World Championships, she became the first woman to win the 200- 400- 800- and 1500-meter freestyles in a major competition. Her victories often coming via huge margins, Ledecky has been honored as the FINA Swimmer of the Year, the USOC's Olympic SportsWoman of the Year and a three-time Golden Goggle Female Athlete of the Year.
The champion swimmer was accepted to Stanford University prior to her graduation from Stone Ridge in 2015, but she elected to defer enrollment to focus on training for the 2016 Summer Olympics. Proving to be in peak form well before the start of Olympic competition, she set her 11th world record with a time of 8:06.68 in the 800m free at the Arena Pro Swim Series in January 2016.
Additionally, Ledecky headed into the summer as the world-record holder in the 400- and 1,500-meter freestyles. Unbeaten in all major international competition, she was expected to add to her already impressive gold medal count and become one of the American team's most celebrated Olympians by the close of the 2016 Rio Games.
Rio Olympic Games
Ledecky did not disappoint in Rio. In her first individual event, the women's 400-meter freestyle, she won gold, soaring past the competition early on and finishing with a time that was two seconds better than her own world record and four seconds more than her second place finisher. She also helped her teammates win silver in the Women's 4x100 meter freestyle relay. She went on to win gold again in the 200-meter freestyle race, edging out Swedish swimmer Sarah Sjostrom, who won silver. After the grueling race, Ledecky spoke about finding the strength to grab the gold. “I did come pretty close to throwing up during that last 50,” Ledecky said. “I knew I just needed to get my hand on the wall and be done. Everything was hurting . . .I just had to dig deep and do my own thing. I had no idea whether I touched first . . .I was done when I touched the wall. I knew I’d given it everything I had to.
She continued to dominate as the anchor in the 4x200 meter freestyle relay, winning the gold medal with teammates Allison Schmitt, Leah Smith and Maya Dirado. She also defended her 2012 world title in the 800-meter individual freestyle in a stunning victory, finishing the race at 8:04:79 and smashing the world record. With this gold win, Ledecky became the second woman to win three individual freestyle events at a single Olympic Games, a feat also accomplished by Debbie Meyer at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.
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