Katie Ledecky is focused on qualifying for the world championships this week, but the sport’s biggest recent story, regarding the 2020 Olympic program, greatly impacts the five-time Olympic champion.
The IOC added three swimming events for the Tokyo Games — a mixed-gender 4x100m freestyle relay, the men’s 800m freestyle and the women’s 1500m freestyle — on June 9.
Ledecky holds the world record in the 1500m free — no other woman has swum within 13 seconds of it — and captured the last two world titles.
Many believed the women’s 1500m free should have been on the Olympic program years ago, since the men have been contesting the event at the Games since 1908.
The women have swum the 800m freestyle at the Olympics (which the men do not) since 1968. Of course, Ledecky won the last two Olympic golds in that event.
Last year, Ledecky advocated for adding the men’s 800m free and women’s 1500m free to the Olympics. She also stressed not wanting to drop the women’s 800m free for the women’s 1500m free.
Now, she can swim both in Tokyo, granted she wants to and finishes top two in those events at the Olympic Trials. Both are to be determined.
“Adding the 1500m was a long time coming,” Ledecky said Monday in Indianapolis, ahead of the USA Swimming National Championships, part of the TeamUSA Summer Champions Series, presented by Comcast. “It’s good that there’s parity in the men’s and women’s distance events now.”
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In a press conference, Ledecky spoke for nearly two minutes on the subject.
She hasn’t set any goals for the 2020 Olympics yet. Nor did she commit to wanting to swim the 1500m in Tokyo, where she could try to sweep the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees, like she did at the 2015 Worlds.
“Obviously, the 1500m will have to be in the conversation now,” Ledecky said. “It’s good that the sport isn’t static. I mean, the world isn’t static. If you look at the history of swimming, events have been added over time. Women had a lot fewer races back in the day. I’ve met some female swimmers who swam in the ’60s and didn’t have the opportunities that we had in terms of the events. I think there was only a 100m and 400m free at one point [before 1968]. And then they added the 200m. Then they added the 50m in 1988, I think. So, over time, more events have been added. I think the 1500m fits right in there this year. It’s a good opportunity for swimmers moving forward. Hopefully, it will encourage some young kids to try out some distance swimming.”
Ledecky actually might not swim the 1500m free at nationals this week, where she could qualify for the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m frees at worlds in Budapest next month. And earn a place on the 4x100m free relay.
She will start off with a 100m and 800m free double on Tuesday in Indianapolis.
The 1500m is on the last day of the meet Saturday, but Ledecky will earn a 1500m place on the worlds team if she wins the 800m.
The 100m free is the only event on her program this year that she did not swim at this meet four years ago.
Ledecky ranked No. 5 in the U.S. the last two years in the event, making it possible that she could qualify to swim it individually at worlds by finishing top two on Tuesday.
But she made no mention of that on Monday.
“I’m swimming the 100m because I like to contribute to that relay,” she said. “As long as I’m pushing the other girls, then we can get some good times up there. Hopefully whoever’s on that relay can compete for a top medal.”
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