After winning another four medals in Tokyo, Katie Ledecky joked that since she only took two weeks out of the pool after the 2016 Olympics, maybe she would take three this time.
What actually happened: Within two weeks, she dived back in at Palisades in Maryland, where she first joined a swim team with her brother back in 2003.
“I hate being out of the water,” she said.
This next month is key for Ledecky, a headliner at a Pro Series meet in San Antonio this week (broadcast schedule here). It’s the last top-level competition before the world championships trials at the end of April, where the top two in most individual events qualify for worlds in Budapest in June.
Ledecky should have no problem making the team for a 10th consecutive major international meet, but trials will be the biggest gauge yet of how she has handled a cross-country, post-Olympic move.
Last year, Ledecky kept the focus on the Olympics through all 6,200 meters of racing in Tokyo. But she knew all along that a decision was coming. Her apartment lease at Stanford was up at the end of September.
“I was training with a college team, and I’m older than most of the other swimmers,” she said after moving to Florida, also noting being closer to her family on the East Coast. “I didn’t have too many mid-distance, distance people to train with. So it had entered my mind that there would be a change post-Olympics.”
Ledecky swam between two and six times per week in those first weeks after Tokyo, either while visiting family in the D.C. area or at her home base of Stanford. She called it sporadic. She still wasn’t back into real training when she emailed Anthony Nesty, the 1988 Olympic butterfly gold medalist for Suriname who coaches at Florida.
“I almost fell off my chair,” said Nesty, who guided Bobby Finke to 800m and 1500m freestyle golds and Kieran Smith to 400m free bronze in Tokyo.
“Where we started talking, I said one thing I’m not going to do is recruit you,” Nesty said. “I told you this is what we do. This is how we run things. It’s up for you to decide if this challenge is what you’re looking for.”
Ledecky, over a three-day visit that included a trip to Spurrier’s Gridiron Grille with Finke and Smith, decided it was. She shipped her stuff from California and lived for a month out of a hotel (with a kitchenette) before moving into her new home.
By Oct. 1, Ledecky returned to a normal practice schedule, a little more than two months after her last Olympic swim. She lived out of suitcases — as many as four at a time — from trials in June until November.
She has replayed all of her Olympic races — the opening silver in the 400m free behind Australian Ariarne Titmus, a fifth-place finish in the 200m free and golds in the 800m and 1500m frees. Most of all Ledecky watched the 4x200m free relay, where the U.S. took silver. She anchored with the best split in the 32-swimmer field by .61 of a second, 1.45 seconds faster than her individual 200m free.
In 2016, Ledecky set specific time goals for the Olympics, writing them in code on a pull buoy named Beilke, and hit them. The goals for Tokyo that she also wrote out in various places were more about results and medals, but she declined to divulge specifics.
“I was very pleased with how it went in Tokyo,” she said. ” I was happy with the progress I made between trials and the Games.”
It’s hard to grade Ledecky’s early returns at Florida based off her first meets when she could be slowed by heavy training. But her times are strong in comparison to last year.
In early February, she swam a 200m free in 1:56.09, which was .53 faster than she did in early March 2021 (when she had not raced since March 2020).
At her most recent meet four weeks ago, she was 3.41 seconds faster in the 400m free than a year earlier and 3.47 seconds faster in a 1500m free. Best of all, she swam her fastest time in her trademark event, the 800m free, since 2019.
She ranks No. 1 in the nation this year in all four events, each by at least three seconds and the 1500m by 41.18 seconds.
Speaking in December at the Golden Goggle Awards, where Ledecky tied Michael Phelps‘ record with a seventh Athlete of the Year honor, she said she had not yet set goals for the 2024 Olympic cycle. Ledecky, who in Paris can become the oldest U.S. woman to win individual swimming gold by two years, cited needing time to acclimate to her new training environment.
“I’m kind of taking it slow on that,” said Ledecky, who in 2012 at age 15 became the second-youngest U.S. woman to win individual swimming gold, according to Olympedia.org. “The first goal is just to make the worlds team this next year.”
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