This article appeared in the July 28, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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For Katie Ledecky, it takes grandparents to win Olympic gold

Matthias Schrader/AP
Katie Ledecky of the United States reacts after winning the women's 1,500-meter freestyle final at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo, July 28, 2021.

For Americans, the narrative of the Tokyo Olympics to date has focused on two athletes – gymnast Simone Biles and swimmer Katie Ledecky – struggling with expectations. 

And it’s a tale about grandparents – Ms. Biles’ grandparents are famously a vital support for her, but so are Ms. Ledecky’s. But we’ll get to that in a moment. 

In today’s Daily, our reporter in Tokyo looks at how Ms. Biles’ teammates responded to her decision to remove herself from competition. Her exit underscores a truism known to every elite athlete: The mental is as important as the physical. 

On Wednesday, Ms. Ledecky attempted to do something no swimmer has done at the Olympics before – swim both the 200- and 1,500-meter freestyle final on the same day. When asked about this challenge, Ms. Ledecky said, “More than anything, it’s just being mentally prepared for it.”

But Ms. Ledecky, who has been called “the best female swimmer that we’ve ever seen,” was trounced in the 200-meter final, the first of the two races. She finished fifth. 

In a little more than an hour, she needed to find the resilience to go back in the pool. Her coach tried to “get my mind right,” Ms. Ledecky said later, telling her, “Be angry about it if you want.” But instead, she thought about her grandparents, whom she described as “the toughest people I know.”

Ms. Ledecky went on to win gold in the 1,500 Wednesday.

“It makes me really happy to think about them,” she said later. “I knew if I was thinking about them during the race ... that would power me through.”

This article appeared in the July 28, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 07/28 edition
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