ATLANTA – Katie Ledecky took a psychology seminar at Stanford last fall called “How Beliefs Create Reality,” learned all about sleep and dreams in another course, and one of her classes this quarter is public speaking.
The Olympic champion swimmer has had first-hand experience with all of those subjects:
She believed in her talent and her training to make winning five medals at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 a reality.
Without a doubt some of her dreams have come true.
And by age 20 she’s done quite a bit of speaking to the media and audiences.
While Ledecky still has five weeks to go at Stanford – where she’s wrapping up her freshman requirements with no declared major just yet – she’s already got an eye on a summer filled with the subject she knows best: swimming.
Ledecky is hoping to build on her nine world championships gold medals and is laying the groundwork at meets such as the Arena Pro Swim Series in Atlanta this weekend.
While Ledecky competed in two events Friday night, her most impressive time was 12 minutes, 53 seconds.
That’s how much time elapsed between the moment Ledecky touched the wall in the 100-meter freestyle – for a commendable fifth-place finish in 54.69 seconds – to the point when she had to be ready on the blocks for the start of the next women’s event, the 400 free.
As expected, Ledecky crushed the field in the longer event, finishing in 4:00.98, nearly 7½ seconds faster than Joanna Evans in second.
The double looked easy, but it wasn’t.
“It was tough,” Ledecky said. “(The 400) hurt pretty bad, but it’s good for me and I was really happy with my swims and surprised by the times.”
So what does a swimmer do with so little time between races? The only deep breaths Ledecky took were in the water, as she warmed down 400 to 500 meters.
Then it was time to go again.
“I was still a little wet, a little shaky, getting on the blocks,” Ledecky said, “but once I dove in, I just kind of got into 400 mode. My arms hurt, my legs hurt, but I pushed through and just tried to stick to a race plan and do as best as I could.”
Her 200 split was 2:00.02, and she closed with practically an even split. After making her final turn, Ledecky spliced between the swimmers on either side of her, as all of the other competitors formed an uneven line going in the opposite direction.
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Ledecky said she’s trying to “see what works” in the lead-up to the 2017 Phillips 66 National Championships and world championships trials in Indianapolis June 27-July 1, followed by the world championships in Budapest at the end of July.
“I think I know the speed will be there when we rest up,” she said, “but it’s good to just see how fast I can come home at these meets.”
Although this is the fourth meet in the Arena Pro Series, it is only the second in which Ledecky has competed because of her collegiate schedule. She also swam in Mesa, Arizona, in mid-April.
Ledecky is getting reacquainted with long course swimming after the NCAA season, which is short course and measured in yards, not meters.
After taking three weeks off in the wake of her Rio triumph, Ledecky plunged back into the pool. She broke American and NCAA records in the 500 free and 1,650 free at the Ohio State Invitational in November.
Ledecky, who holds the world records in the 400, 800 and 1,500-meter freestyles, then helped Stanford win its first NCAA team title in 19 years – and in dominating fashion. The Cardinal out-scored second-place Cal by more than 150 points.
Ledecky won two individual events outright and tied for a third. She captured the 500 and 1,650 frees in NCAA-record time and tied Louisville’s Mallory Comerford in the 200. She also swam legs on the victorious 400- and 800-yard free relays.
This summer the spotlight will be firmly on Ledecky, with Michael Phelps retired, Ryan Lochte suspended and Missy Franklin taking some time off.
But Ledecky doesn’t want to dwell on that. She insists that she is “taking things step by step and focusing on my own goals and not letting anything else get to me. That has always been what I’ve done a good job of and what I need to continue to do moving forward.”
At the 2015 worlds in Kazan, Russia, Ledecky won five gold medals, including sweeping the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 freestyles and swimming a leg on the 800-meter relay. Two years earlier in Barcelona, Spain, she won all of those events except the 200 free.
“I don’t focus on outdoing myself,” Ledecky said. “I just focus on putting in the best preparation that I can. And hoping that that can set me up to achieve my goals. Yes, I do have goals. And I do have things that I’m targeting over the next couple of years.”
Will she divulge them?
“No,” Ledecky said.
They’re not even written down.
“I have them in my head and I’m just going to gradually get excited about those over the next couple of years,” she said.
It’s common knowledge that Ledecky enjoys swimming the 4x100-meter freestyle, on which she won her lone silver medal in Rio.
At the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Swimming, Ledecky placed seventh in the 100 free and was put in the relay pool.
Could she eventually become a medal threat from the 100 all the way to the 1,500?
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that level,” Ledecky said. “I just need to focus on what I want to achieve and not letting anything else stand in my way. And my No. 1 priority for the 100 is to help that relay out.”
Also in the back of her mind in terms of goals: Finally getting her driver’s license. “Maybe this summer!” Ledecky said.
Before studying a driver’s manual, she has plenty to do to finish out her freshman year. While Ledecky is pool deck royalty, she can go about her business at Stanford without much fanfare.
“From time to time somebody will notice me or want a picture, but very rarely,” Ledecky said. “The students there, everybody is exceptional in what they do. Everyone’s really respectful of each other. And that’s something I’ve really appreciated and enjoyed.
“When people do introduce themselves to me because of who I am, I’ve enjoyed meeting them because I am just a freshman so I try to meet as many people as I can and learn their names. If anything, it’s been a good conversation starter if people have questions about the Olympics.”
After worlds, Ledecky plans to take another short break and then start her sophomore year with the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on the horizon.
“I’ll kind of recharge and get ready and pace myself over the next three or four years,” Ledecky said. “The year’s gone by fast already.”
Good thing she’s a pro at the quick turnaround.