Ledecky, 22, hasn’t swum since the 1,500-meter preliminary heats Monday morning, which means more than 48 hours have passed since she last hit the water. Her next race would be Thursday night’s 4x200 freestyle relay, and team officials will have to make a decision soon about whether Ledecky is feeling well enough to continue competing at the world championships.
She had arrived at these world championships with heady expectations, her sights set on matching the five gold medals she won at the 2015 and ’17 championships. She took silver in the Sunday’s 400-meter freestyle in the meet’s first big upset, and team officials became concerned with Ledecky’s uncharacteristically slow finish. The next day she posted the top 1,500 qualifying time but again looked tired after the race.
On Tuesday morning, team officials announced that she had withdraw from both the 1,500 final — where she was a heavy favorite to win her fourth straight world title — and the 200-meter event. Even if she can’t make Thursday’s relay, Ledecky has one more scheduled event here: The 800 meters, one of her most dominant distances, begins with preliminary heats Friday morning.
Ledecky underwent a series of tests with medical staff Tuesday, and team officials were holding out hope Wednesday morning that she would rebound and be able to return to the pool.
Greg Meehan, the U.S. women’s coach, said Tuesday that Ledecky was dealing with a physical ailment but didn’t discuss any symptoms. He stressed that she wouldn’t compete again until she was fully ready and cleared by medical staff.
“First and foremost it’s about her, her health and the big picture,” he said.
Ledecky is the most decorated swimmer on the U.S. national team, a 14-time world champion and world record-holder at three distances who until this meet had never encountered much adversity or bad luck at a big competition.
The world championships are the last major international meet before the Tokyo Olympics. Wednesday marks the one-year-out date from the start of the Summer Games, and the next few days will go a long way to determining the narrative and the expectations that Ledecky will take into Tokyo.
“She got sick at a bad time,” said U.S. teammate Lilly King, who took gold in the 100-meter breaststroke Tuesday night. “We’re here for her, we’re here to support her, we’re going to keep rolling like we would with Katie here. Wish her the best and hope she gets back soon for the 800.”