By Mike Watkins//Correspondent
As daughter Katie put more and more distance between herself and the rest of the pack, David and Mary Gen
Ledecky never doubted her ability to finish strong and win Olympic gold.
They’d seen her do it a month earlier at the 2012 Olympic Trials, where she stunned the Omaha crowd by taking a commanding lead in the finals of the 800 freestyle to make her first Olympic team at the tender age of 15.
In London, she led from start to finish – never relenting – a trait Mary Gen says is part of her genetic makeup and undying spirit to succeed.
“She has always been a focused and determined student and athlete,” Mary Gen said. “She had a great example set ahead of her by her older brother. We were confident in her ability to swim the race that she and her coaches determined would be best for her. We did not even think about people underestimating her. We just wanted her to have a fun Olympic experience.
Ledecky, a sophomore at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md., and a member of the Nation's Capital Swim Club (NCAP) Georgetown Prep site, admitted she was quite nervous prior to the preliminaries of her event in London, particularly since it was her first international meet on any level in the sport.
Having performed so well at Trials – beating 2008 Olympian and former World Champion Kate Ziegler by more than two seconds in the finals, as well as finishing a very close third in the 400 freestyle – Ledecky said she went to her first Olympics brimming with confidence but didn’t want to over-swim.
For her, it was really all about soaking in her first major meet experience, learning from it and having a good time.
“I didn’t really feel any pressure going into my prelims race, but I was pretty nervous,” said Ledecky, who said she trains for all the strokes eight times a week. “By the time finals came, I was pretty calm. I was at the point where I could say, 'Go to this place, have a great swim. Whatever happens, happens. Have fun and enjoy it because there’s no guarantee you’ll ever be back here again.'”
In the process of winning gold, Ledecky also bettered Janet Evans’ American record – the longest-standing American record – and came within five-tenths of setting a new world mark. Her closest competitor -- Mireia Belmonte García of Spain – finished more than four seconds behind her.
A few weeks after her remarkable feat, Ledecky received a tweet from Evans congratulating her on her great swim and for representing the United States so well. Considering Ledecky looked up to Evans and watched videos of her races as she grew up in the sport, she said it meant a lot to her to hear from her idol, especially after seeing her swim at Olympic Trials this year after being out of the sport for so long.
She also received a shout-out during the Games from NBA superstar and fellow Olympic gold medalist Kevin Durant, who singled her out during an interview for her tremendous accomplishment.
“It’s honestly still slowly sinking in (that she’s an Olympic champion),” Ledecky said. “That’s what I expected, that it would take a while. There are moments where I have to pinch myself and ask what did I just do? Is it real?”
Because of the success she’s attained at such a young age, Ledecky has become an idol herself to thousands of young boys and girls who aspire to duplicate her accomplishments.
It’s a role and responsibility she’s very excited to have, although in true “Katie” form, she’s the first to downplay her new fame. In her view, she’s still the same old Katie who continues to focus on improving as a swimmer and her future plans to attend college to become a physician like several members of her family.
“It’s pretty crazy but a great feeling to know that I can do something great that can impact others,” said Ledecky, who started swimming at age 6 when her brother wanted to join a summer league team. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do (be a role model). I talked to some kids at my school about my experience and what it takes to do what I do.
“I want to embrace the Olympic theme of inspiring a generation, and it’s a cool feeling to know that people watched the Olympics and enjoyed watching the U.S. Olympic team do so well.”
Up next for Ledecky are the AT&T Winter Nationals, Nov. 29 through Dec. 1 in Austin, Texas. She said having the past few months off to focus on training – along with her win in London – have inspired her to want more in and out of the water.
“I continue to train like I didn’t go to the Olympics and win gold, that I still have a lot to accomplish and that keeps me motivated and excited,” Ledecky said. “In fact, I’m training harder than ever now, and I want to push myself and see how far I can go. I definitely think I can still go faster, and that includes the 200 and 400 freestyles.”