Nineteen-year-old Katie Ledecky has emerged as a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, breaking multiple world records in races short and long. What’s her secret? asks Robert Sullivan.
One of the reasons it is difficult to see precisely what makes Katie Ledecky perhaps the greatest athlete in America, and maybe the planet, is that when she comes out of her house it is dark, as in very dark, as in 4:25 in the morning. Naturally, conversation at this hour is limited: The swimmer is under the hood of her parka and savoring those last few moments before the 5:00 a.m. plunge, while her father, David Ledecky, who is ferrying her to practice, is DJ-ing a little classic rock, as fathers driving their nineteen-year-old daughters anywhere typically do.
Ninety minutes and thousands of strokes later, at the pool at Georgetown Prep, in Bethesda, Maryland, where Ledecky trains six days a week, it’s easy to spot the swimmer who has broken her own world record in the 800-meter freestyle an astounding four times since 2013. She is the six-foot-tall woman powering through her laps alongside the men, a few lanes away from the rest of the women. Seated in the stands is the swimmer’s mother, Mary Gen (short for Mary Genevieve), who doesn’t get into the particulars of her daughter’s technique. “You should ask Katie,” she says. “I wonder what she’ll say. We try to stay out of strategies. We just try to make sure she’s happy.”