Katie Ledecky

Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel welcome Olympic decision amid backyard pool, backpack lunges

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Katie Ledecky had reportedly turned to a backyard pool to swim last weekend. Simone Manuel, without a weight room available, piled books into a backpack and did lunges at home.

That’s been life for two of the world’s best swimmers for much of the last two weeks. No surprise, then, that they were relieved that the Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021.

“I think that a lot of the athletes expected it, but I support today’s decision,” Manuel told NBC Olympic primetime host Mike Tirico. “The health of everyone is more important than the Olympics at this time. So I’m just excited that a decision has finally been made and we can move on and get prepared for 2021.”

No more uncertainty over whether to keep preparing for a potential June Olympic Trials. No more searching for pools around their base of Stanford University, which closed its athletics facilities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The search to swim brought Ledecky and Manuel to Menlo Circus Club, two miles up the road. That didn’t last. Ledecky and Manuel eventually turned to swimming in somebody’s backyard pool on a few occasions, according to the Washington Post.

“Honestly, it’s been more just therapeutic,” Ledecky said, according to the newspaper, which added she and Manuel considered relocating to Florida to find an Olympic-size pool. “It hasn’t really been training. It’s just been something to do, something to get our minds off the uncertainty that we’ve all been in these last 10 days or so.”

Manuel said that after Stanford’s pool closed two Fridays ago, a ripple effect of events essentially ended her training. She’s used to nine practice sessions a week — 22 hours in the water — and four more hours of dryland work.

“For a period of time we were being told that the Olympics are still on, and you’ve got to do the best that you can, so scrambling, trying to figure out what to do about training,” Ledecky said.

On a scale of one to 10, Manuel said right now she would be a three on the range of readiness to compete.

“Even if I am able to train, I’m training short-course yards [25-yard pools], and in no way is that going to allow you to win Olympic medals [in 50-meter pools],” she said. “I’m not able to lift in the gym, and so I’m really just putting books in a backpack and trying to do lunges.”

They can now exhale. It’s still unknown when Ledecky and Manuel can return to regular training, but the last two weeks put that problem in perspective.

“As we stand together to meet today’s challenges, we can dream about a wonderful Olympics in a beautiful country,” Ledecky posted on social media. “Now is the time to support all those working to heal the sick and keep us all healthy.”

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The meet where Kathleen Ledecky became Katie Ledecky

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On May 12, 2012, a largely unknown swimmer stepped onto a starting block, flanked by the U.S.’ two fastest 400m freestylers of all time in adjacent lanes.

“This is the interesting name that Rowdy mentioned,” longtime Olympic commentator Ted Robinson said on the Universal Sports broadcast that night, noting his partner and NBC Sports swimming analyst Rowdy Gaines. “Fifteen years old. In fact, she just turned 15.”

The graphic named her: Kathleen Ledecky.

By the end of the weekend, word circulated that the wundkerind preferred “Katie.” The name stuck. It had to. Ledecky, who turned 23 on Tuesday, became the phenom of U.S. swimming, one month before the London Olympic Trials.

“It was definitely a breakthrough meet for me,” Ledecky reflected in 2018. “Kind of my first moment where I could kind of think to myself, yeah, I do have a shot at this.”

In the 400m freestyle, Ledecky nearly ran down Allison Schmitt, who would go on to take silver in the event at the Olympics. Ledecky lost by .39 of a second, taking 3.08 seconds off her personal best.

Ledecky has since chopped another 9.33 seconds, breaking the world record three times and posting the seven fastest times in history. She has lost just three 400m free finals since Charlotte 2012, at the 2012 Olympic Trials and while ill at the 2013 Duel in the Pool and last summer’s world championships.

On the last day in Charlotte, Ledecky capped the meet in the 800m freestyle. She took 4.29 seconds off her personal best, won by 10.71 seconds and earned more praise from Robinson and Gaines on TV.

“This weekend here in Charlotte is almost like your arrival,” Robinson told Ledecky in a post-race, on-camera interview.

“I don’t know about that,” the Maryland high school freshman replied. “I’m just trying to do as best I can.”

Ledecky won the Olympic 800m free two months later as the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team across all sports. She is undefeated at 800m the last eight years with the 21 fastest times in history.

Ledecky remembers specifics from that 2012 Charlotte meet.

“I was kind of swamped with all these national teamers and Olympians coming up and saying, hey, good job or keep it up,” she said in 2018. “I think [Michael] Phelps was at that meet. Him, Allison, I think Katie Hoff, all of them were at the meet. I think my coach, Yuri [Suguiyama], was also kind of starstruck or had the same experience where a lot of coaches were coming up to him saying similar things, like, hey, this girl’s good. She’s got a shot next month [at trials].”

Ledecky also remembers that, at least for a day or two, the swimming world was introduced to her by another name.

“I like to watch my races back sometimes, especially after surreal races,” she said. “And at that moment, those were definitely surreal moments. We got a kick out of that from Rowdy [calling me Kathleen], and Rowdy gives himself a hard time about it now, and I love it.”

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Katie Ledecky, after being slowed by illness, showcases her speed

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How fast is the greatest distance swimmer in history?

Katie Ledecky answered Friday, clocking her fourth-best 200m freestyle ever at a Tyr Pro Series meet in Des Moines.

Swimmers peak not for March meets, but for the U.S. Olympic Trials in June and, of course, the Tokyo Games in July and August. Historic times now bode well for the bigger races to come.

Ledecky touched in 1:54.59 to crush by nearly two seconds a field that included the U.S.’ other top 200m freestylers — Allison Schmitt and Simone Manuel. The previous two days, Ledecky won the 1500m free by 46 seconds and the 400m free by seven seconds.

“It’s exceeded my expectations,” Ledecky said of her first meet of 2020. “I figured I’d have a good meet given how great training is going, but you really never know coming into a meet like this if you’re going to be completely dead from training, or if it’s going to start showing.”

The 200m free appears to be the shortest event on Ledecky’s agenda this year. She wasn’t part of the 4x100m free relay at last summer’s worlds, before she missed races with an illness. She must focus more on distance training for this Olympic year than in 2016 given the addition of the 1500m to the Olympic program.

In the 200m, Ledecky was relegated to silver at the 2017 Worlds and bronze at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. She scratched the event at last summer’s worlds due to what she believed was a stomach virus that caused her to spend seven hours in a South Korean emergency room.

Still, Ledecky’s winning time from Rio — 1:53.73 — is faster than any swimmer has recorded in this Olympic cycle. It’s still very important to her going toward trials, where the top two per individual event make the Olympic team. Ledecky hasn’t lost a 200m free domestically in more than six years.

“It’s just as high up as any of the other events, if not more given that we’ve got a relay fight on our hands this year,” Ledecky said on NBCSN, referencing the 4x200m free relay that the U.S. lost to Australia at worlds. “Putting in just as much work for that as the distance events.”

The Tyr Pro Swim Series at Des Moines concludes Saturday with finals at 7:30 p.m. ET streaming on USASwimming.org. Full results are here.

In other events Friday, Caeleb Dressel overtook Michael Andrew to win the 100m butterfly in 50.92, the fastest time in the world in 2020. Dressel, who broke Michael Phelps‘ world record at last summer’s worlds (49.50), beat Andrew by .41. Andrew lowered his personal best to improve to fourth-fastest among Americans since the start of 2019.

“I’m faster than I was at this point in the season last year,” Dressel said. “I don’t want to get caught up in what I’m swimming in March. It doesn’t matter at all.”

World-record holder Regan Smith held off Olympian Kathleen Baker in the 200m backstroke, clocking 2:06.16 to prevail by three tenths. Smith, an 18-year-old Minnesota high school senior, lowered the world record to 2:03.35 at last summer’s world championships. Baker, who ceded her 100m back world record to Smith last summer, recorded a time on Friday that would have earned bronze at worlds.

About 45 minutes later, Smith lowered her 100m butterfly personal best for the second time in one day. Smith clocked 57.34, .01 behind the U.S.’ top sprint butterflier, Kelsi Dahlia. Smith, who may not swim the 100m fly at trials, improved to third-fastest among Americans in the event since the start of 2019.

Ryan Murphy won the men’s 200m back in 1:55.22, the fastest time in the world this year. Murphy, the Rio Olympic champion, was relegated to silver by Russian Yevgeny Rylov at the last two worlds. Rylov was not in the Des Moines field.

Melanie Margalis took 2.97 seconds off her 400m individual medley personal best, winning in 4:32.53. Margalis, fourth in the Rio Olympic 200m IM, improved from the fifth-fastest American in the 400m IM since the start of 2019 to No. 1 by 2.94 seconds.

Ryan Lochte was fourth in the men’s 400m IM won by German Jacob Heidtmann. Lochte, the 2012 Olympic 400m IM champion, clocked 4:18.95 and still ranks outside the top 10 Americans in the event since the start of 2019. Lochte’s best chance to make a fifth Olympic team at age 35 appears to be in the 200m IM.

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