The pool was markedly different from the last one she had competed in, and for Stone Ridge High sophomore and Olympian Katie Ledecky, left, “it was really great to be back at a Potomac Valley meet and be back with my teammates.” On the blocks, she wasn’t the least bit nervous. “I’m usually pretty relaxed,” Ledecky said. Even in London, before the finals she found herself calm and relaxed. “I knew that I had done everything I needed to get to that point and no matter what happened it would be fun and the experience of a lifetime.”
Friday’s race marked the start of the season, Ledecky’s first after taking almost a month off. “I was really excited to see what I could do after a good break after the Olympics,” Ledecky said. Swimming next to her, Churchill freshman Hannah Lindsey, 14, right, was nervous enough for both of them. “When I looked up and I saw that there was a giant crowd of people crowding Katie’s and my [lap] counters I was kind of freaked out a little bit,” said Lindsey, before the start of the girls’ 13 and over 1,000-yard freestyle race. “Then we got up on the blocks and there was this huge roar of cheers. It was pretty intense.”
For Ledecky, who trains year-round with the Nation’s Capital Swim Club, the crowd at the opposite end of the pool was a welcome home. Far from the international stage she experienced over the summer, here she was swimming in the Potomac Valley Swimming October Open with more than 500 local kids, some as young as 9. Few bleachers, dim lighting and chlorine-saturated air helped mark the differences between the Fairland Aquatic Center in Laurel, and the Olympic Aquatics Centre in London. “And there were 17,000 more people in London,” Ledecky said laughing.
Ledecky had a cheering section in London, but it paled in comparison with the crowd on the pool deck in Laurel. Swimmers lined edge of the pool often four deep. Every flip turn, the cellphones and cameras came up to take pictures. “It was great having a large cheering squad in London,” Ledecky said. “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.”
For Lindsey, the crowd at the end meant something else. Ledecky had already realized her dreams, but it made Lindsey’s seem that much more real. “I think swimming next to a world level competitor does put it into perspective, you know,” said Lindsey, “like maybe one day that could be me. Swimming next to [Ledecky] gives you that adrenaline rush and it makes you want to be better.” By the end of the race, Lindsey, who placed third, had long given up trying to beat Ledecky, instead she was just trying to stay close. Lindsey was making a turn during her final 100 yards when the bell rang signaling Ledecky was on her last lap. “I heard the bell and a giant roar of screams for Katie’s last 50. One day, hopefully, I would love to have that. Katie, she’s built up so much and she’s trained so hard. I think that hard work does pay off and I just need to work a little harder.”
Lindsey was looking forward to racing Ledecky again the following day, but every bit a high school student, the Olympian was forced to scratch from the events she had been entered in for Saturday. Instead of getting up early and heading to the pool, she headed off to school. Even reigning gold medalists have to take the PSAT.