Katie Ledecky has won 5 gold medals and 6 Olympic medals in all at previous Olympics. She has qualified for @TeamUSA in 4 individual events – 200, 400, 800, and 1,500 freestyle, and will likely swim in relays, although the exact number of relays is to be determined. In terms of the all-time Olympic medal lists, what can she accomplish in Tokyo?
Let’s assume she swims 6 events in Tokyo – her four individual events and the 4×200 freestyle relay (definite) and 4×100 freestyle relay (possibly swim a heat). She could swim 2 other relays in heats, the women’s medley relay and the mixed medley relay, but that’s highly unlikely.
In the 6 events named, Ledecky will be the heavy favorite in the 800 and 1,500 and will likely win gold. She has been the world’s best in the 400 freestyle since before the 2016 Olympics but Australia’s Ariarne Titmus put up some times at the Australian Olympic Trials that actually make her look like the favorite in that event, although Swimming World magazine picked Ledecky as the likely gold medalist in the 400. Titmus is also favored in the 200 freestyle, which is on the short side for Ledecky. However, it is likely Ledecky will win medals in both the 200 and 400 freestyles, if not gold. As to the relays, barring some disaster like a false start or other disqualification, the USA will certainly win medals in both the freestyle relays. They will likely be a narrow favorite in the 4×200 but Australia will be the betting choice in the 4×100.
So let’s give Ledecky 3 gold medals and 6 medals in all at Tokyo and see where that puts her on the all-time Olympic medal lists:
- 8 gold medals – among women she would move to =#2 all-time behind Soviet gymnast Larissa Latynina, and tied at second with Marit Bjørgen (NOR-CCS), Birgit Fischer-Schmidt (GDR/GER-CAN), and American swimmer Jenny Thompson.
- 11 Olympic medals – among women she would move to =7th all-time behind Latynina (18), Bjørgen (15), Fischer-Schmidt and Thompson (12), and American swimmers Dara Torres and Natalie Coughlin, with 12 each. Among men and women, she would move up to =18th all-time in terms of Olympic medals.
- 11 Olympic swim medals – Ledecky would trail only Michael Phelps (28), Thompson, Torres, and Coughlin with 12 each, Ryan Lochte, also with 12, and she would be tied with Mark Spitz and Matt Biondi who won 11 Olympic medals in swimming. Notably, everybody in this group is from @TeamUSA.
- 8 Olympic swim gold medals – Ledecky would move to 3rd on this list, behind Michael Phelps with 23, and Mark Spitz with 9. Eight gold medals would tie her with Jenny Thompson and Matt Biondi.
- 9 Olympic gold medals – If she were to win 4 gold medals in Tokyo, she would have 9 total, and move to 2nd all-time among swimmers, behind that guy from Baltimore, and would also be 2nd all-time among athletes in all-sports, trailing only Phelps, and tying Latynina, Spitz, Paavo Nurmi (FIN-ATH), and Carl Lewis (USA-ATH). (Ray Ewry, US standing jumper won 10 gold medals if you include the 1906 Intercalated Olympics.)
Let’s also look at individual accomplishments. Many of the swimmers have won a lot of medals in relay races. Ledecky has also won some relays, but to date, she has 4 individual gold medals (and 4 individual medals in all). If she wins 2, 3, or 4 individual gold medals in Tokyo, where does that rank her? As stated, I think she’ll win the 800 and 1,500, but the 200 and 400 are longer shots. She could win them, but far from a lock.
- 2 individual golds in Tokyo = 6 individual golds total – Phelps leads this list with 13 individual golds, followed by standing jumper Ray Ewry (USA) with 8 (10 if you count the 1906 Intercalated Olympics). There are 2 athletes with 7 individual gold medals – Carl Lewis in athletics and Věra Čáslavská (Czechoslovakia) in gymnastics. Thus, 6 individual gold medals would move Ledecky to =#5 on the all-time Olympic list. (We’re not counting Leonidas of Rhodes who won 12 individual titles at the Ancient Olympic Games.)
- 3 individual golds in Tokyo = 7 individual golds total – now Ledecky moves up and matches Carl Lewis and Věra Čáslavská and would be =3rd on the all-time list for individual gold medals. And by matching Čáslavská, Ledecky and Čáslavská would be =#1 among women.
- 4 individual golds in Tokyo = 8 individual golds total – don’t hold your breath for this one, but if she could do it, Ledecky would match Ray Ewry and trail only Michael Phelps among Olympians with individual gold medals.
What about at Tokyo by itself? If Ledecky wins 6 medals, or 4 or 5 golds, where does that stand for a single Olympics?
- 6 medals in Tokyo would be 2nd most all-time among women at one Olympics, behind only Mariya Gorokhovskaya of the Soviet Union in 1952 gymnastics, who won 7. Ledecky would match 9 other women who have won 6 medals at a single Olympics. If she wins 5 medals in Tokyo she would match 25 other women for 11th place for Olympic medals at a singles Olympics by a woman.
- 4 or 5 gold medals in Tokyo – 5 gold medals, a long shot, would put Ledecky behind only East German swimmer Kristin Otto, who won 6 gold medals in 1988. No other woman has won 5 gold medals at an Olympics. 4 gold medals would tie Ledecky with 11 other women, including Simone Biles who won 4 in gymnastics at Rio de Janeiro.
So there you have it. Whatever Ledecky accomplishes in the pool in Rio, she is likely to make history.