Katie Ledecky just qualified for one of the toughest doubles in Olympic history


On Wednesday night at U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials, Katie Ledecky won the women’s 200m freestyle and women’s 1500m freestyle in an 85-minute span, earning a spot in both events for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics.

Looking ahead to the Tokyo Games, here’s a look at just how hard that 200m/1500m freestyle double will be.

The significance of the women’s 1500m freestyle

Before winning the 1500m freestyle on Wednesday night, five-time Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky had a message for her competitors: “We’re making history tonight,” she said.

While the women’s 1500m free has been contested at the world championships since 2001 – and men have been swimming the distance at the Olympics since 1908 – this summer’s Tokyo Games will mark the first time women have the opportunity to compete in the event at the Olympics.

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The inaugural Olympic gold medalist in the women’s 1500m freestyle will almost certainly be Ledecky.

Ledecky clocked 15:40.50 to win Wednesday night’s 1500m free final, marking the 14th fastest time ever recorded by a woman. In fact, Ledecky currently boasts the top 10 times in the event. Her 2018 world record (15:20.48) – as well as her 23th fastest performance, too (15:45.59) – would have won gold in every men’s Olympic 1500m until 1976.

Top performances in swimming women's 1500m

While there’s no arguing with Ledecky’s success in the 1500m, it’s fair to say that her margin of dominance would likely be even larger if she wasn’t also aiming to defend her Olympic titles in the 200m free, 400m free, and 800m free, too.

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The Tokyo Olympic schedule features a tough 200m/1500m double… if you’re a woman

According to Olympic historian Bill Mallon, 57 men have entered both the 200m free and 1500m free at the same Games since 1968.

In the history of the modern Olympics, only five male swimmers have won medals in both the 200m (or 220 yard) and 1500m (or comparable distance event) at the same Games:

  • 2012 London Olympics – Sun Yang (CHN): silver in the 200m, gold in the 1500m
  • 1996 Atlanta Olympics – Daniel Kowalski (AUS): bronze in the 200m, silver in the 1500m
  • 1904 St. Louis Olympics – Francis “Frank” Gailey (USA): silver in the 220 yard race, bronze in the mile
  • 1904 St. Louis Olympics – Emil Rausch (GER): bronze in the 220 yard, gold in the mile
  • 1900 Olympics – Zoltan Halmay (HUN): silver in the 200m, bronze in the 1000m, silver in the 4000m

No man has ever won gold in both events at the same Games, and only one man – Sun Yang – has won gold in both the 200m and 1500m free at different Games.

When Sun and Kowalski won medals in both the 200m and 1500m at the same Games, they faced an easier schedule than Ledecky will this summer.

Neither Sun nor Kowalski – who both entered four events each in 2012 and 1996, respectively – competed in more than one event on any given day. In addition, there were at least three days between when they swam the final of the men’s 200m free and prelims of the men’s 1500m.

And the same is true of the men’s Olympic swimming schedule in 2021.

But not the women’s.

In Tokyo, the women’s 200m free and 1500m free prelims will both take place during the same session, as well as the finals of both events.

“I would point out that the men do not have that double,” Ledecky said at April’s Team USA summit. “So any male swimmer that wants to compete in those events (200m free, 1500m free) – I don’t know if there are any that are actually attempting that – they do not have the double.”

This week at U.S. Trials, Ledecky got a preview of what her Olympic schedule will feel like.

In Tokyo, her hardest day will likely be day four of the Games (July 26, 2021), when she will look to defend her 400m Olympic gold medal in the morning session (against rising star Ariarne Titmus of Australia) and then come back to the pool for evening prelims in both the 200m and 1500m freestyles.

Here’s a look at Ledecky’s most likely schedule for the Tokyo Olympics: Katie Ledecky - Tokyo Olympics - Schedule

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Ahead of a new opportunity, Ledecky is thinking of the women who couldn’t

Despite the challenging Olympic schedule, Ledecky is mostly just excited about what the addition of women’s 1500m means.

“I’m just so grateful that we have the mile in now,” she said on Wednesday night.

Ledecky received her 1500m Olympic Trials winner’s medal from Janet Evans, who won back-to-back gold medals in the 800m gold in 1988 and 1992, and also held the women’s 1500m world record from 1987 to 2007.

“Hopefully we can do her proud in Tokyo, along with all of the other female swimmers that haven’t had the opportunities that we have today,” Ledecky said.

Ledecky is also close friends with Chris Olmstead (née von Saltza), who won individual medals in both the women’s 100m free and 400m free at the 1960 Rome Games (back when the 400m free was the longest women’s event contested).

Like Ledecky, Olmstead also attended Stanford. But when Olmstead arrived in 1961, there wasn’t just no women’s swim team, but women also weren’t allowed in the men’s competition pool.

Earlier this week, Ledecky also texted with Debbie Meyer, who won gold in the women’s 200m and 800m when both events debuted at the 1968 Mexico City Games. Meyer is also a previous world record holder in the women’s 1500m (1967-1971).

On Saturday, Ledecky will look to qualify her fourth individual event for Tokyo: the 800m free. (Given that she owns the 23 fastest times in history in that event, it’s fair to say she’s a lock.)

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NBC Sports’ Megan Soisson contributed to this story. 

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC

Kaillie Humphries elevates another fresh U.S. face to podium status in two-woman bobsled World Cup

Kaillie Humphries of USA, Kaysha Love of USA in action at the 2 women's bobsleigh during Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
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PARK CITY, UTAH – Kaillie Humphries extended her podium streak on Saturday at the IBSF World Cup, where she and U.S. push athlete Jasmine Jones finished third in the two-woman bobsled.

The third-place finish in Park City marked the sixth podium for Humphries at the Park City track, which hosted the 2002 Olympics, and was Jones’ career-first World Cup podium in just her second World Cup start.

“This is our first race together, so really excited about that,” said the 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic gold medals (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships titles. She earned her 29th career World Cup win on Friday in Park City in the women’s monobob.

“Definitely a work in progress. … The runs weren’t perfect, but I’m really happy with our starts, happy with our drives minus a few little mistakes. It’s a good starting point, and we’ll look to grow from here.”

Humphries and Jones finished with a combined, two-run time of 1:37.69, 0.32 behind winners Kim Kalicki and brakewoman Leonie Fiebig of Germany at 1:37.37. Fellow Germans Laura Nolte and Lena Neunecker were second at 0.23 back.

Kalicki and Fiebig broke a 16-year-old track record with their first run, laying down a time of 48.60 seconds and besting the time set by Americans Shauna Rohbock and Valerie Fleming – the 2006 Olympic silver medalists – in December 2006 (48.73). It also marked the second straight victory for Kalicki, who’s won five career World Cup titles including last week’s two-woman bobsled race in Whistler, Canada.

“I was hoping Kaillie would get [the record],” said Rohbock, who is now a U.S. team coach and was on hand to see her record fall. “That first run there, she had that little skid in the bottom, so that didn’t help, but Kailee’s always putting up a great performance. And Jasmine, another great brakewoman, so we’re really lucky that we have that depth.”

For Team USA, it marked the second straight week that a fresh face earned her first podium finish while competing with Humphries. Last week in Whistler, push athlete Emily Renna and Humphries placed third in Renna’s first-ever World Cup appearance.

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“Being able to race with her was really special,” said the 29-year-old Renna, who was a college track athlete at University of Rhode Island. “It’s really nice to be around seasoned veterans. It definitely makes you feel better in the back sled with you when you’ve got a good pilot who knows the track.”

Renna finished in eighth place in Park City with 12-year U.S. team veteran and pilot Nicole Vogt (1:39.04). Vogt partnered with Jones in her first World Cup last week where they finished seventh in Whistler, 1.33 seconds behind winners Kalicki and German teammate Anabel Galander.

“To have an opportunity to be with Kaillie in my World Cup debut – it’s exciting,” said the 26-year-old Jones, who was a collegiate track and field athlete at Eastern Michigan. “I just feel like I have so much more in the tank to give, and I’m just hungry for it.”

Jones is particularly gratified with her performance after returning full-time to bobsled less than 18 months ago following the birth of her daughter, Jade Quinn Jones, in February 2021. The Greensburg, Pa., native returned to training just five months postpartum, having sat out the 2020-21 season. She competed on the North American Cup last year, finishing the season with a win (the third NA Cup title of her career) and a third place in Lake Placid.

“I’m thankful,” said Jones. “Opportunity is the main thing, and I just feel blessed to have my first World Cup podium. I’m screaming on the inside. I may not show it, but I am jumping for joy because I’m just that excited and happy to have this accomplishment.”

She admits, however, it’s not always easy to compete balance a full-time competitive career with being a mom.

“Sometimes it’s a struggle being away from my daughter,” said Jones, whose mom takes care of Jade while she travels. “I try to get my facetimes in every night and just know that when I’m pushing, I’m doing it for her. Hopefully sometime in the future I’ll have her around on the sidelines cheering me on, and that’s my main motivation – that this is for her.”

The BMW IBSF World Cup continues its North American swing Dec. 16-18 in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Kaillie Humphries faces IVF journey head on — and collects monobob World Cup win along the way

Gold medallist Kaillie Humphries of Team United States celebrates during the Women's Monobob.
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PARK CITY, UTAH — Kaillie Humphries knew the quest to start a family would impact her 2022-23 season, but it’s certainly not slowing down Team USA’s reigning monobob Olympic gold medalist, who captured her first World Cup title in the discipline on Friday.

The 37-year-old Humphries, considered the greatest female driver in history with three Olympic golds (2010, 2014 and 2022) and five world championships, earned her 29th career World Cup win and her third victory on the Park City track, where she won the two-woman bobsled competitions in 2012 and 2016. Competing in Utah – as well as North American World Cup stops in Whistler last week and in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Dec. 17-18 – is one of the reasons that Humphries pushed pause on her journey to motherhood.

“I’m excited,” Humphries said following the win, marking her second straight podium in monobob following a third-place finish last week in Whistler. “I was excited for this year before it started. It’s part and parcel of why my husband and I delayed the IVF process and starting a family this season. To be able to be back in North America and have the first half of the season here – it’s been a long time since we’ve had that, so I wanted to be able to compete and it feels awesome.”

That’s not to say the leadup to this season has been without its share of hiccups. In fact, Humphries admits that following the Beijing Olympics, she had hoped to get pregnant immediately, but she and husband Travis Armbruster had to pivot when a diagnosis of stage 4 endometriosis made it clear that in vitro fertilization would be the best path for pregnancy.

“Right after the Olympics, I was like, ‘We’re going to get pregnant; it’s gonna be all good,’” she said. “I thought, my body has always performed, and it wasn’t going to be an issue. Fast forward to I find out we have to do IVF. We do the first egg retrieval, and it doesn’t go as well as I had hoped — which anybody that’s done this process knows, you can’t control any aspect of it. And so having to do a second round of egg retrieval, …it pushed everything back.”

What’s more, it brought Humphries’ training to a standstill at times, when she would have to limit all physical activity during the three-week period surrounding the egg-retrieval process.

“It impacted my training coming into this year a lot,” she says, “but I also think it definitely reset my hormones, which turns out I needed. I don’t think was a bad thing. I knew coming into this year, I wasn’t going to be in the same shape as I have been in the past, and I had to make peace with that. I know that each and every race I’m racing myself into shape, and each race is a preparation for January’s World Championships.”

Humphries also chose to share her IVF journey publicly, and she’s documented every step of the way, believing that her story makes it less scary not just for her but also for other women and female athletes who might be facing the same thing.

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“My husband and I weren’t sure that we wanted to share it at first,” she admits. “But I felt it was important just to showcase this. I have nothing to hide. And as much as there are parts of me certain days when I think, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ At the end of the day, I know I’m not alone in this.

“It’s important, I do have a voice, and I want other people to know, as an Olympic gold medalist, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. Infertility exists in the female body, and it’s important that I talk about it in my journey and hopefully that’s inspired other people.”

She says she’s received an outpouring of support, which has been particularly gratifying as she continues to put a painful breakup with Team Canada in the rearview mirror. Humphries, who was born in Calgary, competed for Canada for 16 years, winning three Olympic medals including a bronze in Pyeongchang in 2018. But the relationship came to an abrupt end later just five months after the 2018 Games, after Humphries alleged emotional and mental harassment by a former coach.

Winning a gold medal in Beijing just two months after her U.S. citizenship was finalized proved to be turning point for Humphries, who commemorated the milestone with two new tattoos. She first added the date of her win – Feb. 14, 2022 – to the back of her left hand and a larger rose and skull illustration to the back of her right knee and calf, all of which commemorate her triumph over that darker period.

“The skull represents a rebirth and a growth, overcoming challenges and/or obstacles and turning something negative into something positive,” explains Humphries, who says she chose the rose because it’s the national flower of the U.S. as well as a symbol of love won or lost. She notes that she has “an actual Olympic one” planned for August 2024, which is when her favorite tattoo artist is next available.

Humphries has also found the silver lining in her IVF journey, as the competition season has been a welcome break from some of the self-imposed pressure.

“By pushing pause for four or five months and competing, it allowed me mentally to know that we can go into all of next summer and all winter focusing on just doing the actual embryo transfers and having a good pregnancy,” she says. “I don’t feel stressed to try and get pregnant right away. I felt like I was becoming competitive with myself, wondering why isn’t this working? Why can’t I do this? I tried to control too many things, and I started to get really frustrated. Mentally, it was hard. So, by pushing pause, going back to what I know — which is the sport, which is what I love – it’s allowed me to control a little bit of my future.”

Humphries’ season continues Saturday as the IBSF World Cup from Park City concludes with the two-woman bobsleigh.