OMAHA – Katie Ledecky’s summer solstice fell five days earlier on the calendar as she completed her longest swim through the United States swimming tests on Tuesday, completing 1,900 meters of races – 2,300 meters in a 24-hour span if you count her arduous Victory includes the 400-meter freestyle late Monday – and qualification for a third consecutive Olympiad.
Her endless day, made longer by the extra miles she put in warming up and warming up before and after the races, was exhausting. But her uncle Jon Ledecky might have had it worse.
Sleep can wait for Jon to make the most of a week when his two greatest athletic loves, Katie and the Islanders team, which he’s co-owned since 2016, vie for spots on their biggest stages. The Islanders opened their NHL semifinal series against the Lightning in Tampa with two games on Sunday and Tuesday. Katie, five-time Olympic champion, opened her ambitious swimming week on Monday with the preliminary rounds and the final of the 400 freestyle.
The Ledeckys are a close-knit family and were unable to be together in one place on holidays and other occasions for more than a year due to pandemic travel and convention restrictions. The swimming attempts at the CHI Health Center mark the first time since Christmas 2019 that Katie is with her parents and older brother Michael. Jon Ledecky didn’t want to miss the reunion, but Katie worried he was racing between Long Island, Florida and Nebraska.
How would he manage to fly commercials with connections to get from puck drop to pool, back to hockey, and then back to swimming? His itinerary was as ambitious, with as little margin for error as her own race plan, free styles over 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1,500 meters. She was deeply moved that Jon would try so hard if by Wednesday they hadn’t been able to hug or see each other up close.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “He’s one of those great supporter and really part of our immediate family. “
After the Islanders’ 2-1 win on Sunday afternoon, Jon Ledecky traveled from Tampa to Omaha via Atlanta and arrived at his hotel after midnight, where Katie made sure a Chicken Caesar Salad was delivered and waited in his room in case he was hungry. The next night, Jon had a late dinner at a sports bar a short walk from his hotel and saw his two worlds side by side on the wall of the televisions, with Islanders highlights filling the screens alongside news stories about Katie by being three times Olympians became victory in the 400 freestyle.
“It’s so cool that we have these things together now,” said Katie, who waved to her uncle during the pre-race show for her Monday swim and again on Tuesday before her preliminary performances in the 200 and 1500 freestyles.
“It is really fun.”
Her heat of the 1,500, one of three events she holds the world record in, kicked off at a quarter past noon, and Jon, sitting next to Katie’s parents and brother, spent the next 15 minutes, 43.10 – the length of her race – and admonished them with shouts like “Come on, Katie” and “Go on, Katie”.
After Katie finished, Jon stayed long enough to hit his fists in her direction and praise her efforts. Then he got up from his seat and ran to the exit to go to the airport for his 1:36 pm flight. Less than six hours later, he was in his seat for the opening game of the Islanders 4-2 defeat in Game 2 of the Best-of-Seven series.
So much is at stake in the trials this week – make the US team or wait three long years for another shot – swimmers are doing everything in their power to limit distractions. They delete apps, turn off their phones or leave them in their rooms. Katie did let in a little of the outside world, however.
After setting the fastest time in the 200th freestyle semifinals on Tuesday evening, she made it clear in her post-race press conference that she was watching the Islanders game, which was in the second period when she sat in front of the microphone.
“I think it’s 1-1 unless someone has scored a goal in the five or ten minutes since we got here,” she said.
Ledecky, who is from Washington, DC, a suburb of Bethesda, grew up cheering for the Washington Capitals, but she’s also become an avid Islanders fan because of her uncle’s work with the team.
Katie, 24, who was hiding in her apartment near Stanford University campus last year, said, “I made sure I could see the games because they were some entertainment.”
On Wednesday Ledecky was the headliner of the night and competed in the 200 freestyle final, followed an hour later by the final of the 1,500 freestyle, which will be contested for the first time by the women at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The racing spectrum that she had to cover, with 50 and 100 sprinters in the 200 and two 10 km Open Water Olympians in the 1,500, was impressive. Jon Ledecky, who twice walked back and forth between a frozen rink of ice and a chlorinated pool, spanning sports, states, and flight schedules like it wasn’t a big deal, got back in his seat in time to watch Katie win her two races .
Katie will rest on Thursday after deciding not to swim the 100 freestyles. Your uncle will move on in the meantime. He must take part in game 3 of the semi-finals at the Nassau Coliseum.
“I hope he takes a little rest,” Katie said.