AUSTIN, Texas -- Katie Ledecky couldn’t hide the look of disappointment across her face at the conclusion of the 1,650-yard freestyle race this past weekend at the USA Swimming AT&T Winter National Championships.
For the entire race, Ledecky was flirting with the American record time of 15:24.35. Up until roughly the 1,100-yard mark, the high school sophomore was swimming two to three seconds ahead of the record and appeared poised to become the third swimmer over the weekend to break an American record.
“I figured I was going pretty fast, faster than I usually do at least,” said Ledecky, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist in the 800-meter freestyle. “But I didn’t know until later that I was going that far ahead of the record.”
Yet over the last 550 yards, that record slowly crept back on Ledecky. She finished in 15:28.36, which was still the second-fastest time by an American.
Even though she set a new meet record and won the race by just over 27 seconds, the 15-year-old sat in the pool after finishing the race, looked up at the scoreboard at the Lee & Joe Jamail Center at the University of Texas, saw how close she had come to the record and was disappointed.
The race was the second time Ledecky came close to setting an American record over the weekend. Two days earlier, in the 500 free, she was on American-record pace but fell just short with a time of 4:34.53. She again claimed first place.
Although Ledecky left Austin without any U.S. records, it was hard for her to remain unhappy for long. After all, the Winter National Championships was her first major competition since the London 2012 Olympic Games, and it was also her first competition working with coach Bruce Gemmel. Ledecky’s former coach, Yuri Suguiyama, was hired as an assistant coach at Cal-Berkeley in early October.
“I’m very happy with how I did this weekend,” said Ledecky, who trains year round with the Nation’s Capital Swim Club outside of Washington, D.C. “It’s a good way to see where I’m at in the season, and I got some really good times, which I really wasn’t expecting. So overall, it was definitely a successful weekend.”
Ledecky can still take solace in knowing she is the American record holder in the 800. She was clocked at 8:14.63 in London, besting the previous U.S. record of 8:16.22 set by Janet Evans in 1989.
Life in general has been good for Ledecky, who was the youngest member of the entire 532-member 2012 U.S. Olympic Team in London.
After returning home from London, Ledecky took three weeks away from the pool to unwind. But she also took advantage of the time to enjoy some rare opportunities.
During that time she went on a media tour with Team USA and then spent time with the Wounded Warriors at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She also met President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden during a visit with Team USA at The White House. And she was honored, along with several other Maryland Olympians (including Michael Phelps) at the Baltimore Ravens’ season opener.
“It was good to get some rest and just relax for a little bit,” Ledecky said. “My classmates are a lot of fun. They’ve kind of been sharing the moment with me, too.”
Toward the beginning of school, Ledecky held question and answer sessions with students from the elementary, middle and high school divisions at her school, Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md.
“You get questions from the lower grade levels like ‘Why did you paint your nails red?’” Ledecky said. “But then you get into the middle school and high school and they all had really good questions, so it was fun to share stories with them and reminisce a little bit.
“But after that, once I got back into the pool, I was ready to go again.”
Although the Winter National Championships was Ledecky’s first major competition since London, she has been swimming for her high school team. Fellow 2012 Olympian Missy Franklin, winner of four gold medals in London, faced some scrutiny before ultimately deciding to swim her senior season at Regis Jesuit High School in Colorado. Some people thought it was unfair for an Olympian to compete in high school.
For Ledecky, the decision apparently wasn’t quite as hard.
“I didn’t have any doubts about swimming with my high school team (after London),” Ledecky said. “I knew I wanted to be with my team, and it’s something I love. Last year I really didn’t get the full experience because I had some other meets I had to go to, but being just a sophomore, I really wanted to have that experience.
“It’s been fun just being with my teammates again and really being on a ‘team’ again.”
Her first high school meet as an Olympic champion was held in October at the Fairland Aquatic Center in Laurel, Md. Although the crowd capacity there was much smaller than the 17,000 who could watch her swim to Olympic gold in London, Ledecky said she enjoyed the experience swimming with her friends from school.
According to an article in The Washington Post, Ledecky definitely was the star of the meet, noting that her every flip turn was recorded by cell phones and cameras in the stands.
“It was great having a large cheering squad in London,” Ledecky told The Washington Post, “but it was good to be back on the home field. “It’s a neat feeling and it’s great to be able to share moments like this with people. There has been such great support before, during, and after the Olympics. It really means a lot to me.”
Now she has the best of all worlds: a gold medal, her high school team and plenty of time to chase those records.