There will be no time to dwell on that 200 finish. How quickly does she start thinking about her next race?
“Almost immediately,” Ledecky said.
With at least five events on her Tokyo radar, there is nothing easy about what Ledecky is trying to do this summer. But perhaps the most difficult part comes in the form of the taxing doubles she must undertake — swimming two races in a single session. It’s physically and mentally demanding, the magnitude of the task unique to Ledecky.
How she handles Wednesday night’s 200-1,500 double will give not only a glimpse of how Ledecky might clear one of the tallest hurdles in Tokyo this summer but could also explain how she’ll navigate an emotionally draining schedule, moving past successes and disappointments alike.
“It’s hard,” said her coach, Greg Meehan, “but one of the things that she’s gotten better at is just compartmentalizing things.”
Times aside, Ledecky’s double is perhaps the most impressive thing any swimmer will attempt at these trials. Others have doubles, of course, but they’re more likely to be shorter distances. Because the women’s 1,500 free will make its debut at the Tokyo Games and because no other swimmer has tackled the wide range of distances that have become Ledecky’s hallmark, no Olympian has attempted so many meters in a single session.
Between Tuesday’s heats and Wednesday’s finals, Ledecky will swim 3,600 meters in less than 36 hours. The same 200-1,500 double is awaiting in Tokyo next month, with the preliminary heats July 26 and the finals two days later. “Long day at the office” is how Ledecky referred to Tuesday’s schedule.
The third night of these trials was filled with exciting finishes and new faces earning spots on the Tokyo-bound team. Regan Smith won a tight women’s 100-meter backstroke final (58.35 seconds), and Kieran Smith eked out the men’s 200-meter freestyle (1:45.29). Ryan Murphy won the men’s 100-meter backstroke (52.33), and Lilly King took the 100-meter breaststroke (1:04.79).
Meanwhile, Ledecky kept her odometer quietly spinning. She showed up at the pool Tuesday morning, coming off a tough race one night earlier. Ledecky won the 400-meter here Monday night, but her time of 4:01.27 was far from her best, nearly five seconds slower than the world record she set at the 2016 Olympics. She was surprised it wasn’t better and knows it needs to be in Tokyo if she hopes to defend her title.
“The time is what it is,” she said Tuesday. “I think moving forward, I feel more relaxed now.”
Immediately after the race, Meehan offered a fist bump and tried to steer Ledecky’s focus away from the time. The same way they approach the grueling doubles, Meehan wants Ledecky to refocus quickly, training her attention on the next task.
“The standards for her externally, I think, it’s tough sometimes, right?” Meehan said. “We don’t talk about it, but everybody feels that. The reality is she has made her third Olympic team. … It’s, like, mission accomplished. Of course, we wanted to be faster, but we’re not coming in here to post world-leading times. We’re coming in here to make the team.”
Unlike other swimmers who earned a spot on the Olympic team, Ledecky did not meet with reporters at a news conference Monday night. Instead she went back to the hotel and gathered with her parents and brother, the first time since Christmas 2019 that they were together. Tears were everywhere — but not because anyone was fussing over a disappointing time.
“I started crying; they started crying. It was like ‘three-time Olympian’ just kind of hit me,” she said. “So nice to be back with them. We’ve all been through so much over the past year. I think you kind of take things for granted, and we don’t want to take things for granted.”
Ledecky returned to the pool Tuesday morning and thought not one bit about the previous night’s race. Her finish in her first 200 heat was only 1:57.58, but again, now 24 and preparing for a third Olympics, she knew not to dwell on it.
“I think if I had gone 1:57 in prelims in the 200 free a couple years ago, I probably would’ve been a wreck. ... I would’ve let it bother me,” she said. “This morning I was able to roll it off and say, ‘I got the job done; that’s all I needed to do this morning.’ ”
After posting a 15:43.10 in the 1,500 prelim later, she turned in a strong 1:55.83 in the evening’s 200 semifinal, and she feels she’s carrying momentum into the rest of her meet, where the primary goal is to qualify for the 200, 400, 800 and 1,500. She said she’s not paying attention to the Australian trials, where rival Ariarne Titmus has posted times that have ramped up the Tokyo intrigue.
For now, Ledecky knows all she can do is look ahead — but not too far. She’ll take Wednesday morning off and rest before hitting the pool for her biggest night of the trials, where 1,700 meters await.
“We are staying focused on what’s right in front of us,” Meehan said. “This is a business trip right now. This is not about doing anything to send a message to Australia. It’s about us and staying on our path.”