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24th & Glory: An 11-part World-Herald series by Dirk Chatelain


SWIMMING

Katie Ledecky looks forward to another 'family reunion' in Omaha for Olympic Swim Trials

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Katie Ledecky looks forward to another family reunion in Omaha

Katie Ledecky, who has starred for the United States during the past two Olympic Games, was in Omaha on Wednesday talking about the Olympic Trials that will take place at Omaha’s CHI Health Center next summer.

Katie Ledecky visited Omaha on Wednesday to help announce plans for the next Ledecky family reunion, an event otherwise known as the Olympic Swim Trials.

Ledecky has dominated women’s distance events since her debut at the 2012 Trials in Omaha.

The 22-year-old joked with the media during a press conference that those trials and the 2016 event attracted Ledeckys from across the country.

“It’s always been fun coming to Omaha for Olympic Trials,” Ledecky said. “I have such great memories of the Olympic Trials. In 2012, it was my breakout meet onto the international stage. I’ve had so many relatives that have come here to the Olympic Trials to watch.

“We joke that it’s a family reunion.”

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Ledecky also noted that the swimming community positively views Omaha.

“I think Omaha has become synonymous for Olympic Trials,” Ledecky said. “People say, ‘I’ve qualified for Omaha,’ or ‘I’m going to Omaha,’ and you know they’re talking about Olympic Trials. Everyone in the swimming community knows what Omaha means.”

A big reason for Ledecky’s appearance at the CHI Health Center was to announce that tickets for the June 21 through 28, 2020, event will go on sale July 1. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster and at the CHI box office.

Ledecky reflected on the position she was in eight years ago, one year before the 2012 Trials, and how far she’d come to be at this point.

“In 2012, I wasn’t really expecting to make the Olympic team,” Ledecky said. “I had it as a goal, but I didn’t know if I could do it. But knowing that my family was here, and having such a fun time in Omaha, was so reassuring to me as an athlete competing, working toward a goal, I could relax just knowing that no matter what, my family was having a good time.

“They came back in 2016, and again had such a great experience. I’m pretty sure I’ll have 50 or 60 family members here next year.”

USA Swimming’s Chief Operating Officer Mike Unger said 315 athletes already have qualified for the trials. He expects that number to be between 1,300 and 1,400 before qualifying ends next spring.

Ledecky is the two-time reigning Olympic champion in the 800-meter freestyle races and the defending Olympic gold medalist in the 200 freestyle. She’s expected to add the 1,500 to her agenda — a new Olympic event for women, and an event in which she is the world record holder.

One of Ledecky’s primary points of emphasis Wednesday was how, for her, the past two trials prepared her for the Olympics. 

“This Olympic Trials is unlike any other swim meet that we compete in, including the Olympics,” the 22-year-old said. “Omaha puts on a show. It’s 14,000 people here watching us, cheering us on. In many ways, it’s a more demanding, more stressful meet for us than the Olympic Games.

“Omaha is what really prepares us for the Olympics, knowing that we’ve competed at such a high level in front of so many fans here just one month before the Olympic Games begin. Next year I expect that will be no different. You have to be at the top of your game here in Omaha to make that Olympic team.”

Ledecky and Unger talked about the intense emotions and drama that surround the trials. Only two swimmers qualify for the Tokyo Olympics in most of the events, and the stage and national primetime television coverage add to the spectacle.

“There are a lot of emotions,” Ledecky said. “I think that does create a really great show. ... In the end, there’s a roster of 50-plus swimmers who will move on to Tokyo. And I can assure you that those swimmers will be the most prepared of any swimmers in the world because we’ve competed in Omaha in this environment.”

Ledecky said when swimmers from other countries first saw the venues in London and Rio, they were awestruck. U.S. swimmers weren’t — they already had been impressed by Omaha.

“I think a lot of those other countries get to the Olympics and they’re kind of like deer in the headlights,” Ledecky said. “There are a lot of fans, maybe even less than we have here in Omaha. But it’s still a lot of people and kind of a similar arena set up usually.

“We’ve had that preparation, we’ve had a meet like this, at least this one. So many of the members of the team will have been to multiple Olympic Trials, perhaps multiple Olympics and world championships where they’ve had that environment.”

The timing of the trials also has been important as United States swimmers prepare for Olympic races.

“For us to have this just one month before the Olympic Games, that’s what sets us apart,” Ledecky said. “We have that high-intensity, high-excitement from Omaha that gets us ready to perform at that high level again at the Olympics.”

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