Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart rising sophomore Katie Ledecky first met Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian, when she was 6 years old, just before she entered the sport of swimming.
Less than a decade later Ledecky can call herself Phelps’ teammate.
It was a high-five from the Baltimore native just before she took to the starting blocks for the women’s 800-meter freestyle final at the Aquatics Centre in London on Friday, Ledecky said, that helped propel her to an American record-setting swim and her first Olympic gold medal.
“[Phelps] was the first Olympian I ever met,” Ledecky said in a USA Swimming soundbite sent to the Gazette. “Just to hear a ‘good luck’ from him before the race was really cool. I thought back to that moment and it really calmed me down. It’s amazing, just to be mentioned in the same sentence as him.”
The youngest member of the 530-athlete Team USA, Ledecky’s gold medal-winning time of 8 minutes, 14.63 seconds was just 0.53 seconds off the world record and broke Janet Evans’ 23-year American record.
“I loved watching the race in the afternoon and then again at night,” Stone Ridge swimming and diving coach Bob Walker said. “Watching her teammates cheer for her and the USA basketball team, was great. Her post-swim interview and the medal ceremony will always be remembered. Our first high school meet in November is going to be exciting.”
Ledecky, who had the third-fastest time in Thursday’s preliminary round, dropped nearly five seconds off her July 1 Olympic Team Trials winning time and finished 4.13 seconds faster Friday than the sliver medalist, Mirela Belmonte Garcia of Spain.
“I [didn’t know I was on the world record line] but I figured I was going pretty fast and at one point I thought, ‘If I’m going to be close to the world record, I don’t even care, I just want to get my hand all the wall first,’” Ledecky said. “It’s just great to be here and to have had such great distance swimmers that came before me and really inspired all of us.”
Ledecky only first achieved the 800-meter Trials qualifying time about a year ago. Her performance Friday made her the youngest athlete to ever win the event at the Olympics.
“I don’t think two years ago I ever could’ve imagined this. I just have been setting short-term and long-term goals and have been working my butt off and getting faster progressively,” Ledecky said. “Missy [Franklin] and Michael’s [gold-medal] races [Friday] got me pumped up and I just wanted to see how well I could do then to represent the U.S.”