Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel returned to long course swimming at the Arena Pro Swim meet in Mesa after leading Stanford to a NCAA championship. Both were gold medalists at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Credit: Jeff Metcalfe/Rob Schumacher/Arizona Republic
Katie Ledecky and Simone Manuel went almost straight from the Rio Olympics to Stanford and now back to international swimming with an eye toward the World Championships in July.
They appear no worse for wear.
Both won events in which they were Rio gold medalists Thursday night when the Arena Pro Series meet opened in Mesa, demonstrating how quickly they switched from swimming short course yards in college to long course meters.
“We finished NCAAs on Saturday (March 18), took Sunday off (to travel), Monday got in and swam 3,000 (meters) on my own,” Ledecky said. “Trained the rest of the week, had finals Tuesday and Wednesday, paper due Thursday, flew out to the Olympic Training Center on Thursday, got 10 days of training at altitude,” in Colorado Springs before a few more days of school and now competing again at Skyline Aquatic Center.
If that sounds exhausting, remember this is Katie Ledecky we’re talking about. She just turned 20 on March 17 and already is a two-time Olympian, five-time gold medalist and world record holder in the 400- and 800-meter freestyle. Given Michael Phelps’ retirement, she is without much debate the world’s preeminent swimmer regardless of gender.
But as a Stanford freshman for another eight weeks, Ledecky is happy to blend in as just another student.
“I’m loving it,” Ledecky said. “I’m taking some really great classes, meeting some really amazing people. Obviously I’m part of a really special swim team so Stanford has the whole package. Every day I’m amazed at the beauty of the place and the people I meet and very happy where I am.”
Ledecky won three individual events at the NCAA Championships and Manuel two, as Stanford won by the largest margin of any team since Auburn in 2003. Both were also on two winning relays. Manuel became the first woman to break 46 seconds in the 100-yard freestyle at nationals. Ledecky broke the American and NCAA record in the 500 free and lowered her NCAA mark in the 1,000 free on the way to a title in the 1,650, which she won by more than 20 seconds.
“That was the goal that our team had for the whole year and we really worked hard to get there,” Manuel said. “It’s sunk in, but our celebration also was a little short-lived just because Greg always keeps us moving towards what’s next. That was going back to school and focusing on that then going to the OTC and focusing on this meet. So we’re always just moving forward in our journey and hopefully adding more to our success.
“The team is amazing. We have 14 swimmers and two divers, and I love every one of them. We really worked hard and sure everybody was aware of the goal at hand. We didn’t focus too much on all our dual meets all the time, just continued to train hard and it all came together at Pac-12 and NCAAs.”
Manuel won the 100-meter free Thursday in 53.66 seconds (her American record is 52.70) with Ledecky in fourth. Ledecky came back to win the 400 free by more than six seconds in 4:01.01 (she is the world record holder in 3:56.46). Ledecky also is scheduled to swim the 400 IM and 200 free on Friday and 200 IM and 800 free on Saturday. Manuel heads the 50 free field Friday.
“It’s pretty cool for people to come up and tell me I’m an inspiration to them because of what I’ve done in Rio,” said Manuel, a Stanford junior who tied for first in the 100 free and was second in the 50. “It gives me a lot more confidence moving forward. I haven’t completely thought about how much it’s changed (her life). I have a normal routine at school, it’s like I’m getting bombarded by people every day or when I’m in the airport. I’m always on the go and not focused too much on what I did in Rio.”
Same for Ledecky, with 14 wins in five Mesa meets through Thursday, who is as excited to talk about her Stanford classes as she is about swimming. She enjoyed Greek art history and Spirit of Democracy classes in the fall.
“I’m living in a dorm with three roommates,” she said. “I go to class, meet all these different people. From time to time, somebody will come up to me and want a picture or an autograph. But that’s very rare, and if they do I’m usually pretty excited about it because I get to meet another person on campus. I’m just a freshman, so I’m trying to make as many connections as I can.”
Other Thursday winners
Nathan Adrian swam the second fastest men’s 100 free in the world this year to win in 48.18 seconds, not far off his winning time in Mesa last year (48.00). He also won the 100 free in Mesa in 2013 and 2014. Adrian was bronze medalist in Rio.
Rio Olympic silver medalist Josh Prenot won the 200 breaststroke in 2:10.47 over Chase Kalisz (2:11.29) and Kevin Cordes (2:11.50). Kalisz was 400 IM silver medalist in Rio while training in Tempe with Arizona State coach Bob Bowman before returning to college for his senior season at Georgia.
Katie Meili won the women’s 200 breaststroke in 2:25.67 with three-time champion Breeja Larson of Mesa taking fifth.
Tom Shields and Kelsi Worrell won the 100 butterfly titles, and Marcelo Acosta took the men’s 400 free crown.