Debbie Meyer in awe as Katie Ledecky chases her records

Katie Ledecky
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One of the feats Katie Ledecky is chasing this summer is sweeping the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyles at one Olympics — a triple done by one other swimmer in history.

That swimmer is Debbie Meyer, who at Mexico City 1968 became the first man or woman to win three individual gold medals in the pool at one Olympics.

Meyer said she met Ledecky for the first time at the United States Aquatic Sports Convention in Jacksonville, Fla., in September 2014.

Meyer didn’t know if Ledecky would recognize her, or even her name, since Ledecky was born 29 years after the Mexico City Olympics. So, Meyer had a USA Swimming official make the introductions.

“Katie, I’d like you to meet Debbie Meyer, and her mom goes, oh my god, oh my god, Debbie Meyer,” Meyer recalled in a recent phone interview. “And then Katie’s eyes lit up. Obviously, she knew who I was, which kind of freaked me out, because that was so long ago.”

Meyer said she’s been in awe of Ledecky since the fellow Maryland native took surprise gold in her lone event at the London Olympics — the 800m freestyle. Then, Ledecky was 15 years old and the youngest member of the entire U.S. Olympic team across all sports.

Meyer, who turned 16 years old two months before the Mexico City Games, was a precocious talent as well.

“Four years prior to the Olympic Games, I had no clue what they [the Olympics] were,” she said. “My mom and dad gave me a stopwatch Christmas 1964. In quotations underneath, it said ‘Mexico City 1968.’ I had to ask them what it meant.”

Meyer broke the first of her 15 world records at age 14. By 1968, she reset the 200m, 400m and 800m free world records at the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Her timing was excellent. Mexico City marked the debut of the women’s 200m and 800m frees.

But she sprained an ankle the day she left for the Olympics and was on crutches for her first five days in Mexico City. Fortunately, the swimming events back then took place mostly during the second week of the Games.

So Meyer hobbled into the Opening Ceremony in 80-degree temperatures, sweating in a polyester dress and stockings, standing in the middle of a stadium with no water or bathrooms available to her.

Meyer then suffered a stomach illness while in Mexico City.

Still, she won the 200m, 400m and 800m frees all in Olympic record times. Her margins of victory ranged from comfortable to incredible — a half-second, 3.7 seconds and 11.7 seconds.

“I didn’t equal my world records because, obviously, we were at altitude [more than 7,000 feet above sea level], and it makes a big difference when you swim,” Meyer said. “But I probably would have broken the records, or very close to it, had I been swimming at sea level.”

Meyer went to the next Olympics in Munich in 1972 as an Associated Press writer.

She had retired less than a year before the Games, coming into practice one Monday after a weekend meet and saying, “I really don’t want to do this anymore. I’m not happy.”

“I kind of just waved my hand and left,” Meyer said. “By the time I had got home, [my coach] had already called my mom and said Debbie quit swimming. … And I really don’t regret it at all.”

Meyer coached swimmers until retiring from that pursuit last August. She lives in California and still skis on weekends, slaloms and giant slaloms.

And she admires Ledecky, who swept the 200m, 400m and 800m frees at the 2015 World Championships. Meyer didn’t think it would take 48 years for another woman to match her Olympic feat.

She thought Australian Shane Gould would do it in 1972, but Gould took silver in the 800m free. She thought Janet Evans had a shot in 1988, but Evans didn’t swim the 200m freestyle at trials.

Meyer cited a relative lull in distance swimming before Ledecky came out of nowhere in 2012.

And the perception that distance swimmers couldn’t do a 200 as well, that they stuck to just distance or just sprinted,” Meyer said. “And we had so many phenomenal sprinters for a long time that they beat out the distance swimmers [in the 200].”

There’s another Meyer feat that Ledecky chases — her U.S. female record for individual world records in Olympic-size pools. Meyer broke 15 in her career. Ledecky is at 11.

“I think she’ll surpass me,” Meyer said, “and I think that’s fabulous.”

More differences separating Ledecky from Meyer:

*Ledecky has the benefit of college swimming to look forward to after the Rio Olympics. She is committed to Stanford, keeping her amateur eligibility like Missy Franklin four years ago.

Meyer had no such luxury in 1968, four years before Title IX came into play. She mostly trained with early teens, even leading up to her retirement at age 19.

“It was very hard to keep that drive going when you’re almost 20, and you’re swimming with young kids,” Meyer said.

*Ledecky could also make the U.S. Olympic Team in the 100m freestyle, as she has the nation’s fastest time in the event so far this year.

Meyer swam the 100m free at the 1968 Olympic Trials because she thought she had a shot to qualify for the 4x100m freestyle relay, but she didn’t make the final.

*Ledecky is known for winning titles at the longer distances, then adding the 200m free and then the 100m free to her repertoire in recent years.

In reverse, Meyer started swimming as a sprinter.

“Everything was 50s for me,” she said. “I really didn’t do any 100s of anything.”

She eventually moved to the 200 individual medley and the 200 freestyle. Then, one day in practice in 1965, she swam 1,650 yards.

“From that point on, I was a distance swimmer because I could do 64 flip turns instead of open turns,” she said. “Then I started training for the mile. And I started doing the mile and worked down [in distance from there].”

In her school’s fitness testing, Meyer said she was last in the 50-yard dash but first in the 800.

MORE: Shane Gould sees a bit of herself in Katie Ledecky

Iga Swiatek sweeps into French Open final, where she faces a surprise


Iga Swiatek marched into the French Open final without dropping a set in six matches. All that stands between her and a third Roland Garros title is an unseeded foe.

Swiatek, the top-ranked Pole, swept 14th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil 6-2, 7-6 (7) in Thursday’s semifinal in her toughest test all tournament. Haddad Maia squandered three break points at 4-all in the second set.

Swiatek dropped just 23 games thus far, matching her total en route to her first French Open final in 2020 (which she won for her first WTA Tour title of any kind). After her semifinal, she signed a courtside camera with the hashtag #stepbystep.

“For sure I feel like I’m a better player,” than in 2020, she said. “Mentally, tactically, physically, just having the experience, everything. So, yeah, my whole life basically.”

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

In Saturday’s final, Swiatek gets 43rd-ranked Czech Karolina Muchova, who upset No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus to reach her first major final.

Muchova, a 26-year-old into the second week of the French Open for the first time, became the first player to take a set off the powerful Belarusian this tournament, then rallied from down 5-2 in the third set to prevail 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 7-5.

Sabalenka, who overcame previous erratic serving to win the Australian Open in January, had back-to-back double faults in her last service game.

“Lost my rhythm,” she said. “I wasn’t there.”

Muchova broke up what many expected would be a Sabalenka-Swiatek final, which would have been the first No. 1 vs. No. 2 match at the French Open since Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova in the 2013 final.

Muchova is unseeded, but was considered dangerous going into the tournament.

In 2021, she beat then-No. 1 Ash Barty to make the Australian Open semifinals, then reached a career-high ranking of 19. She dropped out of the top 200 last year while struggling through injuries.

“Some doctors told me maybe you’ll not do sport anymore,” Muchova said. “It’s up and downs in life all the time. Now I’m enjoying that I’m on the upper part now.”

Muchova has won all five of her matches against players ranked in the top three. She also beat Swiatek in their lone head-to-head, but that was back in 2019 when both players were unaccomplished young pros. They have since practiced together many times.

“I really like her game, honestly,” Swiatek said. “I really respect her, and she’s I feel like a player who can do anything. She has great touch. She can also speed up the game. She plays with that kind of freedom in her movements. And she has a great technique. So I watched her matches, and I feel like I know her game pretty well.”

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Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone’s defining race; Paris Diamond League TV, live stream info

Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

For Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, what happens in her first outdoor race of 2023 on Friday could dictate the rest of her season. It may impact her 2024 Olympic plans, too.

McLaughlin-Levrone strays from the 400m hurdles — where she is the reigning Olympic and world champion and four times broke the world record — to race her first flat 400m in two years at a Diamond League meet in Paris.

Peacock streams it live from 3-5 p.m. ET. CNBC airs coverage Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

What we know is this: On Friday, McLaughlin-Levrone will race against the Olympic and world silver medalist in the 400m (Marileidy Paulino of the Dominican Republic) and the 2019 World champion (Salwa Eid Naser of Bahrain).

Next month, McLaughlin-Levrone will race the flat 400m at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships, the qualifying meet for August’s world championships. She is racing that flat 400m at USATF Outdoors at least in part because she already has a bye into the 400m hurdles at worlds as defending champion.

What we don’t know: which race McLaughlin-Levrone will enter at worlds. Her coach, Bobby Kersee, said last month that she will choose between the 400m and 400m hurdles for worlds, should she finish top three in the 400m at USATF Outdoors to qualify in that second event. She will not try a 400m-400m hurdles double at worlds.

McLaughlin-Levrone was asked Thursday which event she would pick if given the choice.

“Is it bad to say I don’t know?” she said in a press conference. “Honestly, ask me after tomorrow. I don’t know. I’ve got to run this one first and see how it feels.”

McLaughlin-Levrone also doesn’t know what she will try to race at the 2024 Paris Olympics. Next year, the 400m-400m hurdles double is more feasible given one could do both events without ever racing more than once per day.

“We’re still focused on 2023,” McLaughlin-Levrone said. “One step at a time, literally. Obviously that’s something as the season comes to an end we’ll kind of start to look and figure out what our plan is for next year.”

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

12:57 p.m. ET — Women’s Shot Put
1:35 — Women’s High Jump
2:15 — Women’s Discus
2:20 — Women’s Pole Vault
3:04 — Men’s 400m Hurdles
3:15 — Women’s 800m
3:19 — Men’s Long Jump
3:24 — Women’s 5000m
3:42 — Women’s Javelin
3:52 — Men’s 110m Hurdles
4:02 — Women’s 400m
4:12 — Men’s 100m
4:22 — Women’s 200m
4:32 — Men’s 3000m Steeplechase
4:51 — Men’s 800m

Here are six events to watch:

Women’s Pole Vault — 2:20 p.m. ET
Olympic and world champion Katie Moon won the first two Diamond League meets and again faces some of her biggest domestic and international challengers in Paris. That includes fellow American Sandi Morris, who won the first three Diamond League meets last year, then took silver behind Moon at worlds on count back. Plus 34-year-old Slovenian Tina Sutej, who ranks second in the world this season.

Women’s 5000m — 3:24 p.m. ET
Includes the world record holders at 1500m (Kenyan Faith Kipyegon in her first 5000m since 2015), 3000m steeplechase (Kenyan Beatrice Chepkoech) and the 5000m and 10,000m (Ethiopian Letesenbet Gidey). Plus new American 10,000m record holder Alicia Monson, who is third on the U.S. all-time 5000m list at 14:31.11. Shelby Houlihan has the American record of 14:23.92.

Men’s 110m Hurdles — 3:52 p.m. ET
The three members of the U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo — Grant HollowayDevon Allen and Daniel Roberts — could face off for the first time in nearly a year. Holloway, who has a bye into worlds as defending champion, overcame a rare defeat in the Diamond League opener in Rabat to win his last two races. He is the fastest man in the world this year at 13.01 seconds. Allen isn’t far behind at 13.12, while Roberts has yet to race the hurdles this outdoor season.

Women’s 400m — 4:02 p.m. ET
Could very well determine the favorite for worlds. Reigning Olympic and world champion Shaunae Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas is on maternity leave. Paulino is the only other woman to break 49 seconds since the start of the pandemic, and she’s done it each of the last two years. Naser is the only other active woman to have broken 49 seconds, doing so in winning the 2019 World title (before she was banned for two years, through the Tokyo Olympics, for missing drug tests). McLaughlin-Levrone’s personal best from 2018 is 50.07 seconds, but she was just 18 years old then and focusing on the hurdles. Still, that time would have won the 2022 U.S. title. Last month, University of Arkansas junior Britton Wilson ran the fastest time by an American since 2009 — 49.13 — but she might bypass the flat 400m to focus on the hurdles this summer.

Men’s 100m — 4:12 p.m. ET
Could be a meeting between the reigning Olympic men’s 100m champion (Marcell Jacobs of Italy) and world men’s 200m champion (American Noah Lyles), which hasn’t happened since the 2009 World Championships 100m final, where Usain Bolt lowered the world record to 9.58 seconds and American Tyson Gay was second in a then-American record 9.71. Later in that meet, Bolt won his first world 200m title, a crown he held concurrently with his Olympic 100m titles through his 2017 retirement. But Jacobs, citing nerve pain, scratched out of the last two Diamond League meets, which were to be showdowns with world 100m champion Fred Kerley. Jacobs did show up for Thursday’s press conference. Lyles has a bye onto the world team in the 200m, but also wants to make the four-man U.S. team in the 100m. He ranks fifth among Americans by best time this season — 9.95.

Men’s 800m — 4:51 p.m. ET
The top five from the world championships are entered, led by Olympic and world champion Emmanuel Korir of Kenya. This event was in an international doldrums for much of the time since Kenyan David Rudisha repeated as Olympic champion in 2016, then faded away from competition. But the emergence of 18-year-old Kenyan Emmanuel Wanyonyi has injected excitement this season. Wanyonyi is the world’s fastest man this year. The second-fastest, Kenyan Wycliffe Kinyamal, is also in this field.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly reported the TV window for the meet broadcast. The CNBC broadcast begins at 1 p.m. ET on Saturday, not 3.

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