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The Best Athlete in the World Right Now Is 18-Year-Old Swimmer Katie Ledecky, and What She's Doing Is Nuts

Stashed in: Young Americans, Fitspo, Olympics!, Extraordinary People, Swimming

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Laughlin, who repeatedly watched recordings of Ledecky’s world championship races, notes that at times when Ledecky was pushing hardest—like during the final 50 meters of her come-from-behind 200m win—she increased her stroke length by up to 5 percent, something he calls “stunning.”  While the form of most swimmers deteriorates when they are redlining, Ledecky’s does the opposite: it improves. “I don’t think this is conscious,” says Laughlin. “It’s that when she reaches deep, her instinctive way of doing so is highly effective,” he says. 

Stroke length happens to be highly coachable; but the ability to keep it together at the end of an all-out effort is not. Joyner puts it another way, saying of Ledecky: “This is a person who is able to maximally push herself at something that can be extremely painful and maximally relax at the same time. That’s her real gift.”

Yeah, she sounds amazing:

“Imagine a runner sets a world record in the 5K, then 30 minutes later, runs a world-class 800-meter sprint, and then a day later, wins world championships in the mile and 800.” What Ledecky did, Joyner says, was simply “insane.” The fact that she won long distance events like the 1500m and 800m as well the shorter 200m in the same meet puts Ledecky’s accomplishment “on a different level than even what Michael Phelps has done.”

Next up: Get a drivers license and train for the Olympics.

Ledecky’s gift for fiercely smooth propulsion has propelled her to the top of her sport, perhaps to the top of all of sports, over the last three years, but the scariest part of Ledecky’s dominance might just be her young age. Endurance athletes tend to peak late, in their late 20’s or even early 30’s. Joyner and Laughlin both believe that Ledecky’s best years are yet to come.

In the near term, Ledecky is taking a year-off from college to train for the 2016 Olympics, after which she’ll enroll at Stanford University. But before she shifts focus to winning Olympic gold medals, she is taking care of some lingering high-school matters. In an interview with NBC following her unprecedented performance, Ledecky told commentators that she needs to complete a few more driver’s education classes before she can get her license, and that she is looking forward to “sitting on the couch drinking milkshakes” after having her wisdom teeth removed.

Do you realize you posted stories about swimmers two days in a row?

Might be time for a swimming stash. 

Done, with stash image!

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