Katie Ledecky and Katie Grimes react during the Women’s 800m freestyle medal ceremony at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Swimming Trials on June 19, 2021 in Omaha, Neb.
OMAHA, Neb. — The women’s 800-meter freestyle at the 2021 U.S. Olympic Team Trials — Swimming was pretty much a given. Since she won the gold medal at the 2012 Olympic Games London, Katie Ledecky has reigned supreme.
She again swam away with the 800, winning in 8:14.62, the second fastest time in the world this year.
“Mission accomplished,” said Ledecky of her week at trials, where she qualified in the 200, 400, 800, and 1,500 freestyles in Tokyo.
With the 800 win, Ledecky has won more Olympic trials races than another other female swimmer in U.S. history.
Behind Ledecky, the race for second place captivated the audience. First 16-year-old Bella Sims hung with Ledecky for a couple laps. Sims swims for the Sandpipers of Nevada out of Las Vegas and likely qualified for her first U.S. Olympic Team as a prelims swimmer on the 4x200 freestyle relay. Sims’s Sandpipers teammate, Erica Sullivan, who qualified for Tokyo by finishing second to Ledecky in the 1,500 freestyle, was also vying for second place, along with Haley Anderson who will compete in the marathon swim in the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 next month.
But it was 15-year-old Katie Grimes, also a Sandpiper, who got her hand to the wall first, dropping her personal best by over 10 seconds. She finished in 8:20.36, just 0.15 ahead of Anderson and was in shock.
Grimes is the youngest competitor to qualify for the 2020 U.S. Olympic swim team so far. A 15-year-old has not qualified for the women’s 800 freestyle since Ledecky made her debut in 2012.
“It's crazy how much 10 minutes can change something,” said Grimes, who relied on Ledecky to show her what to do during the medal ceremony.
Grimes’s 800 freestyle performance comes on the heels of her third place finish in the 1,500 freestyle earlier this week. After that race, Ledecky told Grimes, “You’re the future.”
“Her 800 split in her mile the other day was faster than her prelim swim in the 800,” pointed out Ledecky. “So I knew that she had something up her sleeve.”
This time, Ledecky told Grimes, “Heck, you're not the future, you’re the now, you're the present.”
Grimes’s performance and even her time took Ledecky back nine years to the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, also held in Omaha. Ledecky qualified for the London Games that year with an 8:19.78 in the 800.
“It really is full circle,” said Ledecky. “Nine years ago it was Katie and Kate, Kate Ziegler. And we've got another Katie and Katie, so I don't know what it is about Katies and freestyle swimming, but it's awesome.”
Grimes was so surprised to make the Olympic team that she was not even aware that her family cannot travel to Tokyo.
“I don’t know, that’s going to be weird,” she said, shaking her head in amazement. “They’re usually at all my meets.”
It will also be Grimes’s first ever trip out of the U.S.
Grimes had hoped to do well in the 400 individual medley earlier this week, but nerves got the better of her. For the mile (1,500) on Tuesday night, she just decided to have fun.
“I ended up doing better than I thought I was going to do so I was like, ‘Great, let's see what I can do in the 800,’” said Grimes.
Grimes was six years old when Ledecky swam for her first Olympic gold medal in London. She does not remember watching that race on TV.
“I definitely went back and watched that [race],” she said. “And I was like, ‘15 years old, that's nuts, like she's incredible.’ But now I get to be with her. It's crazy. Then who knows? Maybe I'll be like her nine years from now and I’ll be sitting here with another 15 year old or something. I don't know. It's just crazy.”
“It's kind of like deja vu from the other side,” said Ledecky. “I really can't wait to see what Katie can accomplish.”