The U.S. women's swim team is riddled with talent. From teenagers Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Beisel to veterans Dana Vollmer and Rebecca Soni, the team is primed for years of success. These Olympic Games in London have showcased a bright future for Team USA as medals kept adding up and world records continued to fall.
Then Katie Ledecky's star winked into existence.
With perhaps the most surprisingly impressive performance of all American swimmers, the 15-year-old absolutely dominated the 800-meter freestyle swim. She leaped off the blocks into a big lead and never looked back, dusting the defending champion, world-record holder and crowd favorite Becky Adlington in the process.
As the end of swimming competition in London draws near, she is only getting started.
At 15 years and 139 days, Ledecky is the youngest American competing in London and one of the youngest Olympians ever to win a gold medal. Only Beth Botsford was younger when she won a gold medal at the 1996 Games for the United States, besting Ledecky by a mere 77 days.
Ledecky's astounding performance in the 800 free is reminiscent of a female swimming star of yesteryear: Janet Evans.
Comparisons to Evans began even as the race was being swum, and Ledecky could wind up being even better. Consider this: Evans dominated distance swimming in 1988 and 1992 for Team USA, owning the 400, 800 and 1500-meter freestyle events.
The superstar from another era was nearly 17 when she burst onto the Olympic scene, however, having broken several world records and won world championships before she even got to her first Olympics.
This is different.
Ledecky is not only younger, but she has the potential to be far more dominant. The rookie Olympian nearly broke the world record, staying ahead of world record pace for much of the 800 free. She bested Evans' American record—the old world record—with a time of 8:14.63, over 1.5 seconds faster.
She nearly qualified for the Olympics in the 400-meter freestyle as well, placing third at the U.S. Olympic trials in Omaha. Oh, and she broke Evans' age-group record for 15-16-year-olds in the process.
Ledecky was not quite as good in the 200 free, placing ninth in Omaha. She may also have a ways to go in the 1500 free, but she won the event at the 2011 junior national championships. At 15, she has plenty of time to turn into a force in all those distances, perhaps adding a different stroke in the process.
Considering she improved her 800 free time by a shocking 21 seconds over the past year—including posting the world's second-best time during the U.S. Olympic trials, surprising herself in the process—imagine what Ledecky could do with another few years of seasoning.
Perhaps a better comparison would be to Michael Phelps, who was an unknown Olympian at the age of 15. He placed fifth in the 200-meter butterfly in the Sydney Games. He went on to have a pretty good career.
"She just hates to lose," said her coach, Yuri Suguiyama. He has purposely brought her along slowly, putting her in the 2011 junior national championships so that she could "learn how to win." His goal for her was to simply put up good times at the trials.
As it turns out, he picked a good time to loosen her upon the international stage.
Drawing comparisons to two American swimming icons at 15 points to a potential run of dominance for the gold medal winner.