Kathleen Ledecky may be the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic swimming team, but she earned her way onto the squad with the performance of a seasoned veteran. The 15-year-old shocked onlookers—and herself—by surging to the world's second-fastest 800-meter freestyle time of 2012 on Sunday night at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb.
Ledecky's final lunge to the wall came at the 8:19.78 mark, more than two seconds ahead of runner-up Kate Ziegler. The Bethesda, Md. native refused to allow Ziegler, a World Championship bronze medalist, to overtake her on the final leg.
The powerhouse performance established a new U.S. Olympic Trials record in the 800, breaking Katie Hoff's 2008 finish. It was an incredible showing from a relative unknown.
Even Ledecky had to admit that Sunday night's result was startling.
“Four years ago, I never knew how to qualify for an Olympic trials,” Ledecky told the New York Times. “I thought it was an unreal thing."
“It’s just unbelievable to think back at where I was, and think about the work I’ve put in these last couple of months with my coach, Yuri Suguiyama. He’s really prepared me and I had a lot of confidence.”
Those countless hours in the pool paid off for Ledecky, the 2011 junior national champion in both the 400 and 800 free. She narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics last Tuesday in the 400 free final.
She settled for third in the event, despite establishing a new age-group record for fastest time by a 15 or 16-year old swimmer (4:05). The record, previously held by Janet Evans, had held up since 1988.
On Sunday, there was no denying Ledecky.
"I was really surprised with how fast I went out," she told NBC's Andrea Kremer during a post-race interview. "I wasn't really expecting it but I went with it and kept going."
That effort is taking the youngster to London, where she will match up with the world's elite. Suddenly, Missy Franklin doesn't seem so young.