Human Limits

Exploring performance and health with Michael J. Joyner, M.D.

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Is Katie Ledecky Having the Best Year Ever?

The 17 year old swimmer Katie Ledecky set world records in the 400 and 1500m events at the Pan Pacific championships in Australia last week. These records are on top of the 400, 800, and 1500m records she set earlier in the summer. That makes it five world records in two months.


Her margins of victory are also huge. At the Pan-Pacs she won the 400 by six seconds and was the only swimmer to break four minutes. This is a margin of victory reminiscent of the great miler Jim Ryun who dominated that distance in 1966 and 67. Incredibly the first 400 of her record 1500 at Pan-Pacs would have won the 400 outright.


Over the last two seasons she has lowered the 1500 record by 14 seconds.   That is an improvement of about 1.5% which is impressive in an event where Janet Evans held the world record for 19 years (1988-2007). It is even more impressive because Lydecky did it without the aid of the high tech swim suits which were banned in 2010.


The clip below is of her 400m record from a couple of days ago.



click to view


Is this the best year ever by an endurance athlete? Two other exceptional years come to mind. The cyclist Eddy Merckx in 1972 and runner Henry Rono in 1978 had years that rival the one Ledecky is having.


Eddy Merckx 1972

In 1972 the Belgian Cyclist Eddy Merckx won the Tour de France, and Vuelta a Espana (Tour of Spain). He also set a world record for the hour ride that lasted for many years and was only broken with the advent of aero bikes.


Henry Rono 1978

In 1978 the Kenyan runner Henry Rono set world records in the 3k, steeple chase, 5k, and 10k in a span of 81 days.   He also won two medals at the Commonwealth Games.


The Best Summer Ever?

It is impossible to compare different sports, different events, and different eras. However, that Katie Ledecky’s achievments this summer can be compared to those of Merckx and Rono says plenty. It also adds fuel to the argument that the 1500m swim should be added to the Olympic program for women.


Go Katie Go!


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One Response to “Is Katie Ledecky Having the Best Year Ever?”

  1. August 25th, 2014 at 5:39 am

    dan says:

    Eddie Merckx, the one who tested positive 3 times? not in ’72 indeed, he must have been clean that year.
    Is the biological passport used in swimming?

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