So Katie Ledecky will swim at her third US Olympic Trials tomorrow, starting her Olympic campaign in the 400 metre freestyle. What can she accomplish at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in terms of her Olympic legacy?
Ledecky will swim 4 individual events at the Trials – the 200, 400, 800, and 1500 metre freestyles – and is almost a lock to make the US team in all 4 events. Making the team in the 200 freestyle will put her on the 4×200 freestyle relay team, and she may also be placed on the team as a prelim swimmer for the 4×100 freestyle relay. That would be 6 events in an ideal scenario.
Ledecky currently has 6 Olympic medals – 5 gold and 1 silver. If she were to win 6 gold medals, which I think is an extreme long shot, she would equal the Olympic record for women set by East German swimmer Kristen Otto at the 1988 Seoul Olympics who had, shall we say, some assistance.
Just winning 6 medals would put Ledecky in elite company, giving her 12 Olympic medals. That would be equal 3rd all-time among female Olympians, trailing Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina (18) and Norwegian cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen (15). She would then tie 3 American swimmers – Jenny Thompson, Dara Torres, and Natalie Coughlin – and East German canoeist Birgit Fischer-Schmidt.
I think its more reasonable to think Ledecky could win 4 Olympic medals, as a medal in the 200 free or the 4×100 free relay are by no means guarantees. That would give her 10 medals and bring her to equal 9th on the list for female Olympians.
However, Ledecky has a better chance to assault the Olympic record book for most gold medals among women. She has 5 gold medals, and the record for women is 9 by Latynina, with Bjørgen, Thompson, and Fischer-Schmidt next with 8 gold medals.
Ledecky could win 5 gold medals in the 4 freestyle races and the 4×200 free relay, but that is a long shot. She will be favored in the 800 and 1,500, and the USA will likely be favored in that relay, but she is not expected to win the 200 free. In the 400 free, she has been dominant but Australia’s Ariarne Titmus swam the 2nd fastest time ever yesterday at the Australian Olympic trials, and is the world leader for 2021. Titmus defeated Ledecky at the 2019 World Championships, although Ledecky was sick there, but Titmus and Ledecky will battle it out in the 400 free.
If Ledecky could win 5 gold medals, she would become the all-time leader among Olympic women with 10 gold medals. She would also become the second female Olympian, after Otto, to win more than 4 gold medals at a single Games. Even if she wins 4 gold medals she would tie Larisa Latynina for the most Olympic gold medals won by a woman.