Back in March, when athletes found out the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were being postponed until the summer of 2021, five-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky was relieved. Though she was shooting for a third chance to represent the United States in swimming - and still is - she told POPSUGAR that, given all the stress building up around whether the Games were actually going to happen, she was ready to shift her mindset once the news came out.
From mid-March to mid-June, Ledecky trained with former college and Rio Olympics teammate Simone Manuel. They physically distanced but both swam in a 25-yard backyard pool in California nine times per week along with three lifting sessions. Both have partnered with BIC Soleil Sensitive Advanced Razors for the brand's "Game On" campaign, meant to inspire confidence, and Ledecky said she's excited to be working with Manuel through that and in the water.
Now, though, they are back training in their normal facilities at Stanford University with a small group, and their sessions haven't changed. According to Ledecky, every swimmer was tested for COVID-19 before returning to Stanford, and they wear masks while out of the water. "There are new entrances and exits set up, so that it's kind of a one-way flow of walking around the pool deck and to our cars and all that," the 23-year-old said.
Ledecky's goals for Tokyo are the same as when we spoke with her in the fall of last year. For instance, this is the first time the 1,500-meter freestyle is an Olympic event, so Ledecky is aiming for a medal in that. "It's one of my best races, and I'm really excited to tackle that and tackle my other races," she said. (In fact, Ledecky finished out 2019 with the best race time for the women's 1,500-meter freestyle in the world that year, and she set the world record the year prior.)
Ledecky said she's focused on the 200-, 400-, 800-, and 1,500-meter freestyle events in addition to the relay. It's a wide range of races, which she named as her biggest challenge, but it's all about building up confidence and preparing her body for each race. "I'm putting in a lot of hard work to achieve those goals, and it does require a lot of practice of shorter sprinting kind of work and a lot of aerobic and distance work as well. That is really my base and what my real strengths are."
The swimmer continued, "When I'm on the starting block, I like to feel confident, and that's what this 'Game On' campaign is all about. We're trying to do every little thing we can do better and also inspire other people along the way. And that's what I really love about the Olympics and the Olympic experience, is the way that we're able to inspire and hopefully encourage people to have that confidence and work towards goals."
Ledecky isn't sure what her schedule will look like in the coming months leading up to the trials next June, but she does know she's eager to get back in the water and race. She also reflected that she has learned patience and resilience during this time. Aside from training, she's been making strides to take care of herself mentally by staying in touch with her family and doing calls with swim teams (she said she's calling into a children's hospital soon as well).
Ledecky has been learning a lot, period - having enrolled in online classes in the spring and summer to continue her college degree in psychology at Stanford. Schoolwork, she said, gets done before, in between, and after practices. (She squeezes in a nap somewhere, too.)
In the meantime, Ledecky will keep reminding herself that she can only control what she can control, "like having a positive mindset, staying in shape, sticking to my routine, and really enjoying every moment." And, she added, "not dwelling on what could have been . . . really just staying present and focused on the future."