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Katie Ledecky

How Katie Ledecky became better at swimming than anyone is at anything

By Dave Sheinin, Washington Post, June 24, 2016

Always curious how elite performers go about their day to day routine. Some great insight into what makes her the best female swimmer in the world. What sticks out to me in this article is how relentless she is in practice, every lap, every day, everything she has. Reminds me of the Michael Jordan stories in practice, wanted practices to be tougher than games.

Added August 2020


"...he was surprised to find out she couldn’t do three unassisted pull-ups or run a nine-minute mile. When he had Ledecky undergo a battery of physical-assessment tests at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, one of the first sentences of the opening summary, according to Gemmell, referred to her as “remarkably unremarkable.”

“She doesn’t have this incredible wingspan. She doesn’t have webbed feet. You look at Katie, just like with Michael, and you realize the differentiator is between the ears. And their hearts. Their appetite for competition, their unwillingness to lose, and their embracing the challenge. And not just the challenge on competition day, which is a huge part, but the challenge of the training grind.” Ledecky, he said, “has the nerves of an assassin.”

"Gemmell is often asked to speak at coaching clinics about training Ledecky, with everyone in the audience hoping to glean an answer to the same question: How does she do it? Gemmell likes to joke that his entire talk could be wrapped up in just a few sentences: “She’ll do anything to be the best. She’s tough as nails. Any questions?”

“There are days she fails catastrophically,” he said. “She fails in practice more than anybody in her [training] group, because she’ll start out like, ‘This is the pace I need to swim in the race, so I need to replicate it in practice.’ And she’ll go six repeats like that, and the tank goes empty and she just falls off. But you know what? She’ll come back the next day and try it again. And on the third day, she’ll nail it. And she’s been doing this since the first day I walked on the deck with her.”

Man I love this, compete to the edge of your ability and past, fail, learn, improve, repeat.

“You’ve seen her dive in, and by the time the race is 100 meters in, it’s over. Why can she do that? She can do that because she practices it — over and over and over again. Every day, twice a day a lot of days.”

“I would stake my life that she’s not doping,” said Rowdy Gaines, a three-time Olympic gold medal winner and now a commentator for NBC. “There’s no way. It’s not in her vocabulary. She just has a gift.”

Always hesitant to talk about gifts, seems to me she just works her tail off, with purpose.