Shane Gould
Getty Images

Shane Gould sees a bit of herself in Katie Ledecky

Leave a comment

Katie Ledecky‘s breakout as something more than a distance swimmer came at the 2014 U.S. Championships.

At age 17, she crushed reigning World champion Missy Franklin by 1.24 seconds in the 200m freestyle and then broke the 400m world record for the first time.

Ledecky previously snatched world records in the 800m and 1500m freestyles in 2013.

The question had to be asked. Just how versatile could she be?

“She’s not there yet, but certainly the standard is Shane Gould,” her D.C.-area coach, Bruce Gemmell, said on the pool deck after the 200m free in August 2014 in Irvine, Calif. “I believe she held the world record from the 100m to the 1500m [freestyles], so the standard’s pretty high.”

Gemmell was right.

The Australian Gould simultaneously held world records in the 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles leading up to the Munich 1972 Olympics.

Gould laughed in a recent Skype interview when told of Gemmell’s comments.

“I guess it’s just a fact, really, isn’t it?” she joked. “Because I did have the sprint to the distance. It’s much more specialized these days. … It’s always sort of quite rare or impossible that it would happen again, that someone could do the 200m to the 1500m, or perhaps even include the 100m like [Ledecky] has now. I think it’s just a fact. Now that I’m the one person in history who’s done what she’s been working up to.”

Ledecky’s personal bests in the 100m and 200m frees are significantly slower than the current world records, but she is the closest thing to Gould that swimming has perhaps ever seen.

In Munich, Gould, then 15, became the first woman to win four individual freestyle medals at one Olympics. No man or woman has matched the feat since at a fully attended Games.

Ledecky keeps her goals for the Rio Olympics a secret, but she is a contender to make the U.S. Olympic team in the same four individual freestyle events.

She ranks No. 1 in the U.S. in 2016 in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m frees, clocking personal bests in the 100m and 200m frees at a meet in Austin, Texas, in January.

If Ledecky makes the U.S. Olympic team in those four events at the Olympic trials, Gould’s feat will become a measuring stick at the Rio Games in August.

Though Ledecky’s personal best in the 100m free, her weakest of the quartet, would have placed sixth in the 2015 World Championships 100m free.

Gould has never met Ledecky, but the Australian’s husband, swim coach Milt Nelms, was at that Austin meet in January.

Gould runs a holiday accommodation business on the island of Tasmania and spends much time in Melbourne, as she studies at Victoria University. She’s working on a PhD project on the culture of swimming in Australia, where it’s not just a national sport but also a part of everyday life.

Gould watched video of Ledecky racing for research before the Skype interview.

“Katie being way ahead of everyone else, 10 seconds or 10 or 15 meters ahead, she’s not really in a race [against other people],” Gould said. “You have to be task-driven. You have to be really relentless, have this volition, ethos to want to just push yourself and enjoy that physicality. The pain. Just the exhilaration from using all your capacities because you haven’t got somebody to race [against].”

Gould, now 59, has largely been separated from elite swimming since retiring in 1973 to seek other challenges. She attended one Olympics since 1972, as one of the final torch bearers at the Sydney 2000 Games.

“I’m still kind of vicariously aware of what’s going on in the U.S. [swimming] because my husband, he works with some of the elite swimmers,” she said. “I just have a curiosity about times and characters. … I was aware that [Ledecky] is swimming pretty fast and that she’s got a really big range of abilities.”

Gould went on to discuss the similarities and differences between herself and Ledecky, given the generation gap.

“Six months out [from the 1972 Olympics], I was really conscious of making sure I did good training, kept good records of my moods and sleep and balance in my life,” Gould said. “At the same time, there were a lot of media. I had to attend to the media. I didn’t have Australian Swimming or a manager to filter that. It was my parents who did that.”

Interviews. Team meetings. Training camps. Photo shoots.

“That can really suck the life out of you,” Gould said. “Because it can draw you into that ego motivation and that extrinsic focus. [Ledecky] is older than I was [in 1972], so she can probably say no to people, whereas as a 15-year-old, I didn’t quite know, hadn’t had the experience to stand up to adults and say no, I don’t want to do that.”

Gould entered six events at the Munich Olympics — the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles, the 200m individual medley and the 4x100m free relay. The women’s 4x200m free relay wasn’t part of the Olympics until 1996.

She would race 12 times in seven days. Her expectation was to win all five individual events.

“I actually wanted to add another one, the 100m butterfly, but I think it clashed,” Gould said. “Six [individual] events was just a bit too much.”

If Ledecky makes the Rio Olympic team in the 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m frees, she is lined up for 10 individual races in seven days, plus a possible three more relay swims.

“You’ve got to know how to manage your energy over that time,” Gould said. “But at the same time you don’t want to hold back in one event in order to give more energy to another event. So that’s where you’ve got to trust your training and your fitness, and then just give your all.”

In her first four individual events in 1972, Gould took gold in the 200m and 400m frees and the 200m individual medley, all in world records, plus bronze in the 100m free.

“The 100m freestyle was one that I wanted to win,” said Gould, the 100m free world-record holder going into and coming out of the Olympics. “That’s kind of like a blue-ribbon event. I got third in that, and I knew as soon as I dived in and swam 10 meters, it’s not a day for a 100-meter freestyle. I got to the end, and I thought, third place, OK, let’s do this again. Do better the next time. But that’s it. You haven’t got another chance.”

The 800m free capper would be the biggest challenge. American Jo Harshbager had chopped four seconds off Gould’s world record at the U.S. Olympic trials less than a month earlier.

Plus, Gould said she developed a chest illness going into the race from the exhaustive week of swimming.

“I was disappointed that my body let me down,” she said. “It was like, c’mon Shane, we’re a team here.”

In her final race in Munich, Gould finished second, nearly three seconds behind another American, Keena Rothhammer, who broke the world record.

“I thought I was going to die in the heats of the 800m, but I made it,” said Gould, who needed to win her heat on the morning of Sept. 2 to guarantee a place in the following night’s final. “I can still remember it, getting the heebie-jeebies. … I think I slept about 18 hours between that morning race and that final race. … If I had another 12 hours of rest, I think I could have pulled out something else and beat the American girl.”

Gould went to New York after the Olympics to launch a book, then to Hawaii on holiday. Then she returned to Australia for school exams.

“Real life hit me again,” Gould said. “An event like that changes you. You just have a different perspective on the world. Your world expands, so that’s what happened to me. There were opportunities offered to me.”

One of those opportunities was an offer from one of her father’s acquaintances, an American businessman, to host Gould for an extended stay in the U.S.

“There wreren’t financial opportunities, remember,” Gould stressed, as amateur sport in the 1970s was more constricting than today. “But this man gave me an opportunity that was as a result of my father’s business relationships and my success.”

Gould accepted it and moved temporarily to California, where she attended St. Francis High School in Mountain View for one semester. (Six miles from where Ledecky plans to study and swim in college after the Olympics at Stanford)

She continued to swim but was training at 70 percent of her pre-Olympics workload.

“So I got unfit and put on weight because I discovered hot chocolate fudge sundaes and sugar doughnuts,” Gould said. “I’m spending money, got my driver’s license and was loaned a car. I had independence and made some bad choices.”

But she was taken by the different education system in the U.S.

“I started learning about really interesting things, ethics and history and so I just sort of started to look at other things,” Gould said. “My world expanded. I started to look for other challenges, and then by the end of the year I just started to not swim anymore.”

When Gould moved back to rural Australia, away from the attention. She said she never considered a swimming comeback. She married by 18, took up surfing and horse riding and raised sheep and gardens.

“I got involved with the local community, learned how to play basketball,” Gould said. “I did karate. I helped to run a youth group. And then I had four kids.”

And taught swimming in the ocean.

“They were a bit short of swimming teachers at the local school,” she said. 

Those swimmers were nowhere near the level of Ledecky. As Gould has watched video of Ledecky’s astounding margins of victory, she’s reminded of her own golden swims.

And this summer, many more Olympic fans could be, too.

“You’re not even racing the clock, you’re just going sort of as fast as hell as you can without anyone to push you,” Gould said with a laugh. “So I know that experience, and it’s really cool to do that because it’s you and yourself and the water.”

MORE: New chef, new coach, but same ‘goofball’ Ryan Lochte

Chloe Dygert crashes over guard rail, fails to finish world championships time trial

Chloe Dygert
Getty Images
Leave a comment

American Chloé Dygert crashed over a guard rail and failed to finish the world road cycling championships time trial, where she appeared en route to a repeat title in Imola, Italy.

Dygert, who last year won by the largest margin in history as the youngest-ever champion, lost control of her bike while approaching a curve to the right. Her front wheel bobbled, and she collided with the barricade, flipping over into an area with grass.

Dygert, her legs appearing bloodied, was tended to by several people, put on a stretcher and taken toward an ambulance.

“All we know is that she is conscious and talking,” according to USA Cycling, about 25 minutes after the crash. “More updates to come.”

About 10 minutes after the crash, Dutchwoman Anna van der Breggen won her first time trial title.

Van der Breggen took silver the last three years behind Dygert and countrywoman Annemiek van Vleuten, who missed this year’s race after breaking her wrist last week in the Giro Rosa.

Dygert, 23, had a 26-second lead at the 14-kilometer time check of the 31-kilometer race. Full results are here.

Dygert qualified for the Tokyo Olympics when she won last year’s world time trial title. She has been bidding to make the Olympics on the road and the track.

Worlds continue Friday with the men’s time trial airing on Olympic Channel and NBC Sports Gold for Cycling Pass subscribers at 8:15 a.m. ET. A full TV schedule is here.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: USA Cycling names Olympic team finalists

Diamond League slate ends in Doha with record holders; TV, stream info

Mondo Duplantis
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Diamond League season ends on Friday in the place where it was supposed to start — Doha.

Like many sports, track and field’s calendar was put in disarray by the coronavirus pandemic. The Doha meet, originally scheduled for April 17 to open an Olympic season, was postponed five months while other stops were canceled altogether.

Now, Doha caps an unlikely season that still produced stirring performances. NBCSN coverage starts at 12 p.m. ET. NBC Sports Gold also streams live for subscribers.

The headliner is Swedish pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis, a leading contender for Male Athlete of the Year. Duplantis, who twice bettered the world record in February at indoor meets, last week produced the highest outdoor clearance in history, too, breaking a 26-year-old Sergey Bubka record.

Duplantis can mimic Bubka on Friday by attempting to raise his world record another centimeter — to 6.19 meters, or more than 20 feet, 3 inches.

The deepest track event in Doha is the finale, the women’s 3000m, featuring 3000m steeplechase world-record holder Beatrice Chepkoech, 5000m world champion Hellen Obiri and rising 1500m runner Gudaf Tsegay.

Here are the Doha entry lists. Here’s the schedule of events (all times Eastern):

11:18 a.m. ET — Men’s Pole Vault
11:33 — Men’s 200m
12:03 p.m. — Men’s 400m
12:08 — Women’s Long Jump
12:12 — Women’s 100m Hurdles
12:21 — Men’s 1500m
12:34 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
12:43 — Women’s 800m
12:56 — Women’s 100m
1:07 — Men’s 800m
1:18 — Women’s 3000m

Here are three events to watch (statistics via Tilastopaja.org):

Men’s Pole Vault — 11:18 a.m.
Duplantis looks to complete a perfect 2020 against his two primary rivals — reigning world champion and American Sam Kendricks (who went undefeated in 2017) and 2012 Olympic champion and former world-record holder Renaud Lavillenie of France. Kendricks was the last man to beat Duplantis, at those 2019 World Championships, and is the only man to clear a height within nine inches of Duplantis’ best this outdoor season.

Women’s 100m — 12:56 p.m.
Olympic champion Elaine Thompson-Herah looks poised to finish the year as the world’s fastest woman after clocking 10.85 seconds in Rome last week, her fastest time outside of Jamaica in more than three years. That’s one hundredth faster than countrywoman Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce‘s best time of 2020. Thompson-Herah was fifth and fourth at the last two world championships after sweeping the Rio Olympic sprints. Like in Rome, her primary challengers in Doha are Ivorian Marie-Josée Ta Lou and 2018 U.S. champion Aleia Hobbs.

Women’s 3000m — 1:18 p.m.
A meeting of titans in a non-Olympic event. Chepkoech is the fastest steeplechaser in history by eight seconds. Obiri is the fastest Kenyan in history in the 3000m and the 5000m. Tsegay, just 23, chopped 3.26 seconds off her 1500m personal best in 2019, taking bronze at the world championships to become the second-fastest Ethiopian in history in that event. In all, the field includes five medalists from the 2019 Worlds across four different events.

MORE: Trayvon Bromell’s return from destruction, death to sprinting

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!