Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky needed a pool. He offered his backyard.

Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel
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When Simone Manuel and Katie Ledecky, arguably the world’s two best female swimmers, were suddenly, indefinitely without a pool three months before the Olympic Trials, a 71-year-old hall of fame masters swimmer offered to help.

In March 2020, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., Manuel and Ledecky were shut out as their state-of-the-art training facilities at Stanford closed. All of the public pools in the area did the same. The Olympics, at that point, were still scheduled for July 2020. The Olympic Trials were slated for that June.

Other swimmers, either Stanford student-athletes or post-graduates, traveled home. Ledecky and Manuel, NCAA champions for the Cardinal who turned professional in 2018, stayed.

“We were scrambling to find any water because the reality was the trials were going to be in about 12, 13, weeks,” said Greg Meehan, who coaches Stanford’s women’s team as well as post-grads including Ledecky and Manuel. “If we get stuck without being in water for a month or six weeks or something, it’s just not going to go well. I had thought a lot about what happens if we don’t find water. I was trying connections everywhere.”

The first two days, they found a club pool in nearby Menlo Park. They drove up to rival Cal-Berkeley on March 17, Ledecky’s 23rd birthday, before those doors shut.

The duo spent the next two days out of the pool. Meehan knew a friend of a friend in Florida with their own facility, but did it make sense to fly across the country and possibly get stuck there?

Meehan, coach of the reigning NCAA champions and the Olympic team head coach, had no other leads. But Ted Knapp, who spent 35 years on the Stanford men’s coaching staff, knew a guy.

Tod Spieker, a former UCLA All-American, 1968 Olympic Trials backstroker and decorated masters swimmer, lives two miles from campus. Spieker and wife Cathy, for whom UCLA’s aquatics center is named, have a two-lane, 25-yard backyard pool. One lane for each of Meehan’s swimmers.

“I called Tod,” Meehan said. “I don’t think at the time I envisioned us being there for the better part of three months.”

Manuel, Ledecky and Meehan pulled up separately to the Spiekers’ driveway in Atherton for the first time on March 20 or March 21 (the Olympics were postponed to 2021 on March 24).

They went around the house, through a gate and onto a veranda patio out back for swim practice. They repeated the process six days a week until mid-June, when Stanford re-opened. They were very conscious of social distancing.

“I don’t think they ever set foot in the house,” said Spieker, who was out of town for the first few weeks. “I think one time Greg snuck in to use the bathroom.”

The pool checked all the boxes. It had backstroke flags, synchronized pace clocks at both ends and starting blocks. Meehan called the setup “a 10 out of 10” under the circumstances.

“There’s no way I could have lived with myself by denying them use of a pool that satisfied their needs,” Spieker said.

Of all the practices, Meehan will most remember what he called the “death by relay” set. Manuel and Ledecky took turns swimming, one racing while the other rested, for nearly a half-hour.

“The sense of accomplishment and partnership through that particular day was really cool to see,” Meehan said. “I think that was something they’ll both remember as well.”

Ledecky and Manuel, who were Olympic roommates, then Stanford teammates, developed bonds with the Spiekers’ grandchildren who sometimes visited. They brought them swim caps.

“It was more than just a pool for them at that point,” Meehan said. “It was an opportunity for normalcy amid all the chaos that was going on in the world.”

Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel
Courtesy Greg Meehan

Meanwhile, the U.S.’ other top swimmers made do around the country. The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where they often gather for altitude training camps, closed. As did major colleges and universities that host elite post-graduate training cadres.

A Berkeley group including Olympic gold medalists Nathan Adrian and Ryan Murphy went across the San Francisco Bay to the Ann Curtis School of Swimming for three months. (Cal’s Spieker Aquatics Complex was named after and largely funded by Spieker’s brother, a former Cal water polo player.)

The swim school, with a three-foot deep, four-lane pool, was built and owned by Curtis, a 1948 Olympic swimming champion and Cal alum who died in 2012. Adrian and former Cal teammate Will Copeland bought it in 2019 — while Adrian was coming back from cancer treatment — to save it from being shut down and potentially demolished.

Caeleb Dressel, the U.S.’ top male swimmer who trains at the University of Florida, drove 45 minutes south to a pool in Ocala and lifted weights in his strength coach’s garage. Lilly King, the Olympic and world champion and world-record holder in the 100m breaststroke, at one point swam in an Indiana subdivision pond.

All of the top Americans convene in two months in Omaha for the Olympic Trials, which start exactly one year after Manuel and Ledecky’s last practice in the Spiekers’ pool. Manuel, the world’s top sprinter, and Ledecky, the top distance swimmer, could combine for more than 10 medals in Tokyo.

They never would have thought a backyard pool in Atherton would have helped them get there. How much it aided is impossible to say, but consider the very possible alternative of no pool at all for three months.

Not having the Spiekers’ backyard “would have mattered,” Meehan said. “It wasn’t three months of the greatest training of their life, but it was enough to keep the engine running.”

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Summer McIntosh, Canadian teen swimmer, caps record year with another historic time

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Summer McIntosh swam the fourth-fastest 400m individual medley in history on Friday, capping a year that already included world titles, Commonwealth Games titles and a victory over Katie Ledecky.

McIntosh, a 16-year-old Canadian whose mom swam at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, won the 400m IM in 4 minutes, 28.61 seconds at the U.S. Open in Greensboro, N.C. She prevailed by a Ledecky-like 13.24 seconds, breaking her own national record that was previously the fourth-fastest time in history.

“It’s still pretty early in the season, so I didn’t really know what to expect going into it,” she said on Peacock.

The only two women who ever went faster in the event known as the decathlon of swimming are Olympic gold medalists: Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu (world record 4:26.36 and 4:28.58) and China’s Ye Shiwen (4:28.43).

McIntosh has come a long way in a short time. Three years ago, she put all her eggs in the 1500m freestyle basket, thinking it was her best shot to merely qualify for the Tokyo Games in 2020. The one-year Olympic postponement was a blessing.

The rapidly improving McIntosh swam three individual events in Tokyo with a top finish of fourth in the 400m free, just missing becoming the youngest swimming medalist since 1996. She then told her coach she wanted to become an IMer.

At this past June’s world championships, McIntosh won two of the most grueling events — 400m IM and 200m butterfly — to become the youngest individual world champion since 2011. She also took silver to Ledecky in the 400m free, an event in which she later beat Ledecky in a short-course meet (25-meter pool rather than the 50-meter pool used for the Olympics).

A month after worlds, McIntosh swept the IMs at the Commonwealth Games, where she broke more world junior records and again took second in the 400m free (this time to Olympic champ and world record holder Ariarne Titmus of Australia).

McIntosh, who turned professional last year, now trains full-time in Sarasota, Florida, where she rents a house with her mom, Jill Horstead, who was ninth in the 200m fly at the 1984 Olympics (McIntosh, whose passions include the Kardashians and plants from Target, has seen video of her mom winning the B final at those Games). They’re a three-hour drive down Interstate 75 from Ledecky’s base in Gainesville.

Also Friday, Erin Gemmell celebrated her 18th birthday by nearly becoming the first American to beat Ledecky in a 200m freestyle in nearly nine years. Ledecky won by 42 hundredths of a second in 1:56.74 and said she had an off-day while also praising Gemmell, the daughter of her former coach.

NBC airs U.S. Open highlights on Dec. 10 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

U.S. OPEN SWIMMING: Full Results

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Kaillie Humphries begins trek to 2026 Winter Olympics with monobob World Cup win

Kaillie Humphries
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Kaillie Humphries is off to a strong start to a four-year cycle that she hopes ends with her breaking the record as the oldest female Olympic bobsledder.

Humphries, the women’s record holder with three Olympic bobsled titles, earned her first World Cup victory since February’s Winter Games, taking a monobob in Park City, Utah, on Friday.

Humphries, the first Olympic monobob champion, prevailed by .31 of a second over German Lisa Buckwitz combining times from two runs at the 2002 Olympic track.

Humphries has said since February’s Olympics that she planned to take time off in this four-year cycle to start a family, then return in time for the 2026 Milano-Cortina Winter Games. Humphries, who can become the first female Olympic bobsledder in her 40s, shared her experiences with IVF in the offseason on her social media.

“We’ve pushed pause so that I could go and compete this season, maintain my world ranking to be able to still work towards my 2026 goals, and we’ll go back in March to do the implantation of the embryos that we did retrieve,” she said, according to TeamUSA.org.

The next Games come 20 years after her first Olympic experience in Italy, which was a sad one. Humphries, then a bobsled push athlete, was part of the Canadian delegation at the 2006 Torino Games, marched at the Opening Ceremony and had her parents flown in to cheer her on.

But four days before the competition, Humphries learned she was not chosen for either of the two Canadian push athlete spots. She vowed on the flight home to put her future Olympic destiny in her own hands by becoming a driver.

She has since become the greatest female driver in history — Olympic golds in 2010, 2014 and 2022, plus five world championships.

Her longtime rival, five-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor, plans to return to competition from her second childbirth later in this Olympic cycle and can also break the record of oldest female Olympic bobsledder.

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