Katie Ledecky preps to conquer fresh Olympic challenges in new suit

Katie Ledecky
Tyr
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The swimsuit Katie Ledecky plans to wear in races through the 2020 Olympics is called the Venzo.

“It means ‘I conquer’ in Spanish,” Ledecky said.

Fitting. Ledecky, one of the world’s most dominant athletes, discussed the new suit from her sponsor, Tyr, in a recent phone interview and reflected on her performance at August’s Pan Pacific Championships, her first major international meet as a pro.

Ledecky earned three golds, a silver and a bronze at Pan Pacs in Tokyo. But at the meet she expressed dissatisfaction with her times and acclimation to the 16-hour time difference after arriving in Japan four days beforehand.

Ledecky said last week that it marked the most difficult circumstances under which she has raced at a major international meet.

She was beaten by younger swimmers for the first time (Canadian Taylor Ruck and Japanese Rikako Ikee in the 200m freestyle) and, also for the first time, failed to clock her fastest time for the year in any individual event at a major international meet (Olympics, worlds, Pan Pacs).

“I was really happy with how I swam under those circumstances,” Ledecky said, noting her 4x200m free relay split of 1:53.84, faster than Ruck and Ikee and her second-fastest ever after a 1:53.74 in Rio, and her fifth-fastest 800m free. “A lot of good takeaways. The biggest one is the challenge we had in front of us and what we experienced. In some ways I’m happy we experienced that. Hopefully, I’ll learn from it.”

Ledecky continues to live at Stanford after turning pro following her sophomore season for the Cardinal. She still trains with Stanford team swimmers, though she is no longer eligible to compete collegiately. That means she’s sharing the pool with one of her new rivals, Ruck, a freshman on the team.

“We don’t overlap too much, thus far at least,” Ledecky said. Ruck swims the 100m and 200m frees and the 100m and 200m backstrokes. “She kind of comes up to the 200m [in training], and I kind of come down to it from the mile. It provides me some extra motivation having her next to me, and I would hope it does the same for her.”

The 200m free has been the most competitive of Ledecky’s four primary events (400m, 800m, 1500m frees, too). It should only get more interesting as the Olympics near with Ruck in the same training pool and Ikee looking like one of the host nation’s biggest stars. Both are 18 years old, three years younger than Ledecky.

“They’re only going to get faster,” said Ledecky, whose personal best of 1:53.73 from Rio is .71 faster than Ruck’s and 1.12 seconds clear of Ikee. “I really feel like I have a good future in that event. I know that because I have a 1:53 under my belt in an individual race, and I’ve been 1:53 on a relay at Pan Pacs [one day after the individual 200m free].”

When Ledecky took that 200m free bronze at Pan Pacs (just her second defeat in a major international individual final), it came 85 minutes after she won the 800m free. And what she called “a challenging” first day of the meet, when she was still adjusting to the time difference.

“I was feeling a lot of fatigue by the time 8 p.m. rolled around, but that’s not an excuse,” she said. “I don’t think I need an excuse for that race. Taylor and Rikako Ikee had great races, and I need to be ready to compete against them.”

The Olympic swimming schedule released last month has the women’s 200m and 1500m freestyle finals in the same session. It creates for Ledecky one of the toughest potential doubles in Olympic swimming history in the first Games with a women’s 1500m free.

Ledecky conquered a similar double before, winning the 1500m free and then advancing out of the 200m free semis less than an hour later at the 2015 and 2017 Worlds.

But Ledecky first pointed out an earlier day on the Olympic program, where the 400m free final is in the morning followed by the 200m and 1500m free heats that night.

“That one day will be a lot of racing, but I feel very confident that I can prepare for that,” she said. “I’m happy the 200m final is before the 1500m final. I kind of like that pairing a little better than the other way around.”

As for the Venzo, expect to see Ledecky wear it in competition for the first time in January. She expects her next meet to be Winter Nationals in late November. Everything is about preparing for the world championships in South Korea in July.

Ledecky, who signed with Tyr in June, said the company has been working on this suit since the Rio Olympics, gathering input from its pro swimmer roster.

“When I was figuring out who to sign with, I had the opportunity to meet with Tyr and try the suit on day one,” she said. “That was a big factor in signing with Tyr. It’s all about feel. There’s no magical formula that I can tell you this is what I would want to feel, but I got in the water with it on and got comfortable and felt like it was fast and advanced the technology of the suit.”

MORE: Ledecky ties Michael Phelps record for USA Swimming award

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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight

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Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen
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Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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