How Katie Ledecky copes with not seeing her family for over a year

The five-time Olympic champion swimmer shares her lockdown challenge, and is looking forward to doing ‘double’ in Tokyo as 1500m freestyle makes its debut.

By Andrew Binner
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and five-time Olympic gold medallist Katie Ledecky cannot wait to see her family.

The swimming superstar revealed at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee Media Summit ahead of  the Tokyo 2020Games in 2021 that she hasn’t seen her closest relations in over a year due the coronavirus pandemic.

"I think it adds a little bit of an extra push to all of us,” the 24-year-old said on Thursday (8 April). “I think we really want to show the world all that great work that we've put in. I haven't seen my family in over a year now, not one family member.

“That's something that I miss and I want to make this time that I've spent just doing my craft and training really, really hard and all that, I want to make sure that it’s worth it. I really want to make them proud of me, and everyone in the States, when I compete."

Ledecky is very close with her family, and enjoyed their pool-side support at both the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

“I FaceTime them two or three times a day, so I've gotten very used to that and I enjoy that. 

“Both my immediate family and a few extended family members came to London and Rio. So I know they'll miss being able to be in Tokyo, but I know they're just excited that I have that opportunity ahead of me. 

Hopefully we can all get together at some point in the fall or whatever and just take some time to relax and be together. Maybe have some cake or pizza or something.”

Ledecky's loaded Olympic schedule

Ledecky may have already competed at two Olympic Games, but there will be at least one first for her in Tokyo.

The 1500m freestyle will feature on the Olympic swimming programme for the first time for women. As the world record holder, Ledecky is eager to make history for her nation in that event.

"I think there have been so many great female swimmers that have come through the U.S. that haven't had that (1500m freestyle) opportunity,” she said. “So I want to take advantage of that opportunity and really get us started on a really great note there. It's one of my favourite races, one of my best races.”

But the challenge of doing so successfully is almost as logistical as it is physical.

There will be two sessions of swimming per day at the Tokyo Games; one in the morning and another in the evening after a break.

Ledecky is aiming to swim in the 200m, 400m, 800m, and 1500m individual freestyle events, as well as the 4x200m freestyle relay.

Her mammoth schedule means the American will have to swim two exhausting distance races in one session, twice, which would not be the case if she was male.

With the addition of the 1500 free, there is the potential that there will be a double, or two doubles, on my schedule,” she continued. “So the 200 free and the 1500 free prelims are in the same session for the women, and the 200 and 1500 free finals are also in the same session.

“So that's a little bit of a challenge for me and something that I'm really training for.

“I would point out that the men do not have that double. But I'm excited for the challenge and excited to really show my range."

“You can finally feel that excitement building”

On 14 April, a major milestone will be reached with 100 days to go until the Tokyo Olympics begin.

This marker is particularly poignant in 2021, given that the Games were postponed before it was reached last year.

“Every day this year now is exciting in that we're getting closer and closer and you can finally feel that excitement building,” she continued. “We're doing our last preparations and eventually we'll start resting up and swimming fast.

“It's fun to swim fast and be all together and swim against the best in the country at Olympic Trials and hopefully the best in the world at the Games. One hundred days is going to fly.”