Last year, Bethesda’s Katie Ledecky, 17, stunned the world when she broke two world records at the FINA World Aquatic Championships at age 16. There, the two-time All-Met Swimmer of the Year blazed the two world records in five days in Barcelona.
She needed one day less to match that feat at a midseason invitational outside Houston this past weekend.
“I knew I was swimming well, but I didn’t realize until I touched how much faster I was here than in Barcelona,” Ledecky said. “I’d still a bit stunned from this whole weekend. It’s a great feeling.”
Ledecky tore down her own world record in the 1,500-meter freestyle on Thursday night. She followed that performance up by shattering the world record in the 800 freestyle, also hers, Sunday at the Woodlands Swim Team Senior Invitational in Shenandoah, Tex.
For Ledecky, this most recent world record — her fourth in less than a year — feels like the first all over again.
“I think I may have reacted more here than in Barcelona,” Ledecky said. “There weren’t really any expectations this weekend, but going a best time is always good, right?”
Ledecky, a rising senior at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, touched in a time of 8 minutes 11.00 seconds to shave nearly two seconds off the previous record of 8:13.86, set last year at the FINA World Championships in Barcelona. This, just days after shattering the 1,500 freestyle world mark by 2.3 seconds.
According to Ledecky, neither records were expected.
“I sort of had it in the back of mind that [breaking the record] was a possibility after the 1,500, but never really let that into my head leading up to the race” said Ledecky, who spent 18 days training at altitude with the Nation’s Capital Swim Club at the Olympic Training Center before this meet. “I just tried to swim my own race and not to let the crowd influence me too much.”
That’s easier said than done when the capacity crowd has seen a world record set just days earlier.
“I could really hear the crowd on the back half of the race, so I knew I was at least close to record pace,” Ledecky said. “[Coach Bruce Gemmell] and I don’t really communicate during the race, but i could see him waving his arms on deck. He does that when he’s excited, which keeps me at least aware of what’s going on.”
Ledecky, who committed to swim for Stanford last month, swam the back half of her race three tenths of a second faster than her first half – which is almost unheard of at this level and points to even faster swims once rested and tapered.
Ledecky now owns three of the four fastest times in the history of the event. The next fastest swimmer ever is Great Britain’s Rebecca Adlington, who set the world record during her gold medal performance at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Ledecky beat Adlington for the gold at the London Olympics in 2012.
Later on Sunday, Ledecky won the 100 freestyle in a time of 56.02. It was her seventh individual victory of the meet. In total, she swam 5,300-meters in four days, which is just 100 shy of her total in Barcelona last summer.
“It was a pretty tough weekend after 18-days at altitude, but I had a lot of fun swimming different events,” Ledecky said. “I swam the 400 individual medley for the first time in three years and I dropped almost 17 seconds.”
For the record, Janet Evans, the previous queen of American distance swimming, won gold in the 400 IM in 1988. Could this be the next step in her already illustrious swimming career?
“I don’t know about that,” Ledecky said with an amused chuckle. “My current load is more than enough right now. I think I’ll stick to free.”
Up next, Ledecky plans to swim an abbreviated schedule at the Potomac Valley Swimming Long Course Championship, June 17-20, at the University of Maryland. That will be her last tune-up before U.S. Nationals in Irvine, Calif., August 6-10.
“I’ll probably swim my off events; maybe one of the free events to stay race fresh,” Ledecky said. “Other than that, its just back to the grind.”
This year’s Nationals serve as the selection meet for the Pan Pacific Championships in Australia later in August, as well as the 2015 World Championships in Russia.