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2016 Rio Olympics: Katie Ledecky poised to bring home gold before enrolling at Stanford

Aug 5, 2016
Chris Graythen/Getty

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Listening to Katie Ledecky speak on Wednesday afternoon, it might be easy to mistake her for a normal teenager from Anywhere, USA.

“I don’t know exactly what I’m going to study yet,” Ledecky said of her upcoming enrollment this fall at Stanford. “I think freshman year I’m just going feel things out, see what it’s like, take interesting classes, and figure it all out.”

Funny thing, because Wednesday marked the four-year anniversary of when she won a gold medal in London. Ledecky delayed the beginning of her freshman year on The Farm to train for her second Olympics in Rio, where she has a shot at winning five gold medals for a powerhouse Team USA swimming squad. Ledecky shocked the world in London as America’s youngest swimmer at 15, taking the gold in the 800m freestyle race. Now she’s added the 200m and 400m freestyle events to her arsenal, and everyone else is trying to catch up.

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You could make a very good case that she’s the world’s fastest woman in the water today. Ledecky claimed five gold medals at the 2015 FINA World Championships, showing her range with victories in the 200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m events. At the U.S. Olympic Trials earlier this year, Ledecky claimed first-place finishes in the 200m, 400m and 800m races, and likely would have won the 1500m if it were an Olympic competition.

Ledecky said she’s been gradually building up her other events in anticipation for Rio, where she begins on Sunday with the 400m freestyle.

“A lot’s happened over the past four years,” said Ledecky, whose first event is the 400m on Sunday. “I’ve had a lot of fun competing for international meets and gaining more experience. I do feel a lot more comfortable in this environment. I know what to expect in the Olympics and everything that comes with it.”



Hard to imagine that in a few short weeks, Ledecky will probably go from the top of the podium at the summer games to a behind a desk in 101 classes with fellow freshmen.

“I committed to Stanford two years ago, so I feel very much part of Stanford and I’m excited to get on campus in September,” Ledecky said. “I’ve been on campus three or four times, for a day or two to visit. I know the campus is beautiful and the campus just kind of sells itself when you get there. Greg Meehan, the head coach, is great. The team is great. … I’m really excited about what the future holds. Right now, this week, I’m kind of finishing off this chapter and once I get to Stanford I can start writing a new chapter.”

Ledecky said she’s become good friends with fellow Team USA swimmers Simone Manuel and Lia Neal, who are current members of the Cardinal swim team, and other Stanford alums like Maya DiRado. Manuel and Neal are inspirations in their own respect, as they will become the first pair of African-American women to simultaneously swim for Team USA at the Olympic level.

[Related content: 2016 Rio Olympics: Toni-Ann Williams set to make history for Cal, Jamaica]

American women, in general, have become a dominant worldwide force across a wide range of sports. For the second time in Olympic history, there will be more women athletes (292) than men (262) on Team USA, including 69 women with ties to the Pac-12 (23.9 percent).

“I’m really proud to be a part of this really strong group of women athletes on Team USA,” Ledecky said. “It’s fun to walk around the village and see some of them. I saw some of the gymnastics team [Tuesday] in the village and talked to them and wished them good luck. I think we all feel good, feel part of the team. We all want to represent our country really well.”