Ledecky, 15, captures 800 freestyle
Four years ago, Katie Ledecky had no clue about how to qualify for the Olympics.
Now the 15-year-old distance swimmer is headed to London.
Ledecky won the 800-meter freestyle by a whopping 2.09 seconds at the trials Sunday night, making her the youngest member of the US swim team.
She touched in 8 minutes, 19.78 seconds, with Kate Ziegler taking the second spot at 8:21.87 to earn her second Olympic berth. Ledecky broke the trials record of 8:20.81 set by Katie Hoff four years ago.
"I had a lot of confidence going into that race," Ledecky said.
And why not?
She broke Janet Evans’ national age group record while finishing third in the 400 free, one spot out of making the Olympic team in another individual event. Ledecky’s time of 4:05.00 bettered the old mark of 4:05.45.
"I don’t think the 400 was that much of a disappointment," she said. "My time was great. I just got back to work right after my 200 free semifinal and started hitting that pace that I wanted to."
Now a 40-year-old mother of two, Evans competed in both distance events in Omaha, but didn’t make the finals in either. She was 16 when she won three gold medals at the 1988 Seoul Games.
Ledecky took the 800 out hard, something she wasn’t planning on doing.
"I went out with it and I just kept trying to hold on to it," she said, silently counting down how many meters remained in the 16-lap race.
"I never told myself I had it. I just kept trying to hold the same pace I was holding. I tried to pick it up a little bit and just try to push through."
Ledecky didn’t achieve the time cut to swim the 800 free at trials until last summer. She got the 400 free cut in May 2011. She trains with Curl-Burke Swim Club based in the northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC, area.
"It’s just unbelievable to think back at where I was and to think about the work I’ve put in these last couple months," she said. "Four years ago I never knew how to qualify for Olympic trials. I thought it was this unreal thing."
She began swimming at six on a summer team and now trains about 15 hours a week.
Ledecky was waiting when Ziegler cruised into the wall. The teenager and the 23-year-old veteran from Great Falls, Va., celebrated with "a little bit of screaming," Ziegler said.
"The experience that she’s got ahead of her is so exciting and I’m excited for her because I’ve been there and it’s the coolest," said Ziegler, who finished 10th in the 800 free and 14th in the 400 four years ago in Beijing.
Minutes after the 800 ended, Ledecky was still feeling "unreal."
She’ll have Ziegler to count on for support at her first Olympics.
"If nothing else, I would love to be able to leave the sport saying that I helped maybe mentor, shape, whatever, give some advice to the future of our sport," Ziegler said. "That would be one of the greatest gifts I could ever give."