Katie Ledecky is heading to Tokyo as a household name nine years after her first foray into the national spotlight at the 2012 London Olympics. With more than 160,000 followers on Twitter and 420,000-plus on Instagram, the 24-year-old is among the United States’ most popular Olympic athletes.
This summer will be Ledecky’s third Olympic appearance as she looks to build on her rapidly growing medal count. The Bethesda, Md., native will compete in five events for Team USA in Tokyo after winning all four races where she competed in the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials. She’s firmly established as the best active women’s swimmer in the country and is expected to keep adding to her resume at the Tokyo Olympic Games.
Ledecky won her first Olympic gold when she was 15
Just weeks after finishing her freshman year of high school, Ledecky qualified for the 2012 Games by placing first in the 800m freestyle at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Alongside famed American swimmers like Missy Franklin, Michael Phelps and others, Ledecky looked right at home on the big stage.
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Ledecky shocked the world in London, winning the 800m freestyle gold medal race by over four seconds. Her 8:14.63 time broke the American record at the time, which was set by Janet Evans in 1989 (8:16.22).
Ledecky started college with five gold medals
After adding four golds and one silver to her medal count at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Ledecky was finally ready to head to college. She attended Stanford University beginning in the 2016-17 school year, swimming for the Cardinal under coach Greg Meehan (who coincidentally is the 2020 U.S. Olympic women’s swimming head coach). Fellow U.S. Olympian Simone Manuel was one of Ledecky’s teammates at Stanford.
Ledecky set 12 NCAA records during her freshman campaign before receiving the Honda Cup, annually given to the nation’s top female college athlete. She was the first freshman in 35 years to win the award. After setting three more NCAA records during her sophomore season, Ledecky elected to sign with an agent and forgo her final two seasons of eligibility.
She has a handful of high-profile endorsement deals
Ledecky secured a number of sponsorship deals after leaving Stanford early. The swimmer inked a $7 million deal through the 2024 Paris Olympics with sportswear brand TYR shortly after turning pro.
Ledecky also has exclusive deals with adidas, Panasonic, Visa, Reese’s and Built With Chocolate Milk. One of the most recognizable and decorated Americans heading to Tokyo, Ledecky will only expand her brand in the national spotlight this summer.
Ledecky holds multiple world records for swimming
Ledecky enters the 2020 Olympics holding three world records for women’s swimming. She set two of the records in the 2016 Olympics -- the 400m freestyle time of 3:56.46 and the 800m freestyle time of 8:04.79. Ledecky’s third world record is the 1500m freestyle (15:20.48), which she set at the TYR Pro Swim Series in 2018.
Michael Phelps thinks she’s ‘the greatest female swimmer of our time’
Yeah, you read that right. The most decorated Olympian in history -- 28 total medals for men’s swimming -- thinks pretty highly of Ledecky.
“It’s pretty impressive,” Phelps said after the Olympic Trials. “She's recreating what's possible. She's challenging her imagination. That for me is something that's awesome to watch. She's not afraid to dream, and she's not afraid to push boundaries.”
Ledecky and Phelps’ friendship goes back to the 2012 Olympics, when the latter high-fived the former just before she won her first gold medal at 15. They’ve been linked ever since, and it is now Ledecky’s job to be the face of American swimming after Phelps retired following the 2016 Olympics.