Katie Ledecky arrived on the world stage in 2012, winning gold in the 800-meter freestyle at the London Olympics as a 15-year-old, but the swimmer from Bethesda, Md., really came into her own this year.
Ledecky's remarkable performance at the world championships in Barcelona, which saw her win gold in all four events she swam — setting new world records in two of them — led to her being named the U.S. Olympic Committee's SportsWoman of the Year for 2012-13.
The USOC announced the award Thursday; Ledecky will be honored with her fellow winners next week in New York as the USOC commemorates the 100-day countdown to the 2014 Sochi Games.
Unlike Olympic SportsMan of the Year Ted Ligety, the top U.S. skier, and Olympic Team of the Year Bob and Mike Bryan of tennis fame, Ledecky will have to get out of school to make the ceremony. But the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart likely won't mind excusing its most high-profile pupil.
Ledecky is used to juggling acts, anyway. Earlier this year, at the U.S. championships, she became the first American woman ever to qualify for worlds in all four freestyle events — 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 meters. She ended up dropping the 200 from her program in Barcelona to ease the scheduling burden but did swim a leg on the U.S. 800 freestyle relay team.
Her meet started with a win in the 400, but her signature performance came two days later. Ledecky beat out defending world champion Lotte Friis in the 1,500 in a stunning 15 minutes, 36.53 seconds — a whopping six seconds faster than Kate Ziegler's world record that had stood since 2007.
After helping the U.S. team to gold in the 4x200 relay, Ledecky topped Friis again in the 800, breaking a 5-year-old world record with a time of 8:13.86 that prompted Friis to giver her rival a round of applause on the pool deck.
"I exceeded all the expectations I had going into this meet," Ledecky told reporters after that race, which made her the highest scoring female swimmer of the world championships.
Ledecky was previously named the 2013 USA Swimming Athlete of the Year, and in earning SportsWoman honors from the USOC, she joins a remarkable list of U.S. athletes. Sprinter Allyson Felix won it last year and skier Lindsey Vonn the previous two years, and previous honorees include Michelle Kwan, Picabo Street, Bonnie Blair, Gail Devers and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
Oh, and Janet Evans, who won it in 1989. That August, Evans set a world record in the 800 free with a time of 8:16.22, a mark that stood until Great Britain's Rebecca Adlington broke it with 8:14.10 at the 2008 Olympics.
Ledecky beat the crowd favorite Adlington to win gold in London last year, then brought the world record back to the U.S. in Barcelona this year, so it's fair to say she belongs in Evans' company.
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