Katie Ledecky is the best swimmer in the world. It is likely that, even if her progression continues to stall out and even head in the wrong direction, she will win the events she contests this summer at international championships easily.
But right now, Katie Ledecky is swimming in college, which means she's kind of doing another sport known as short course yards. That sport makes her look far more mortal.
Ledecky still has two events in the college format that are long enough (and freestyle) that no one can touch her. She won the 500 free by a huge margin and the 1650 tomorrow might be even more of a blowout.
Finding a third event to do the same has been a challenge. Last year Mallory Comerford tied her in the 200 free, using several key short course skills to do so.
This year, Ledecky opted for the 400 IM. Ella Eastin did Comerford one better and gave Ledecky a taste of her own medicine with a dominant win.
Now, I can hear the chorus already: "WHO CARES?". Ledecky is not going to race the 400 IM in international competition, she's got a plenty big program as it is and it is the college format that forces her into third events like this.
That ignores a central point: Ledecky IS the world's best swimmer, and improving some of her yards swimming skills would help her to continue her development in long course swimming. No one is sounding alarm bells yet and I might look ridiculous for doing so, but it is concerning to have the world's best female swimmer stalling in her early 20s.
It is painfully obvious that current coaching models are not good enough for women (we are plenty good at getting girls to swim fast). Far too many women, from Ledecky down to the lowest level of Division 3 see their progression come to a grinding halt when they should definitely continue to get better through their 20s.
I don't buy all the general excuses for why this trend continues. Are there challenges to coaching women versus girls? Of course. There are also challenges to coaching men versus boys, and I think we've generally done a much better job addressing those.
Let's figure it out- we might already be too late for Ledecky (and we were definitely already too late for Katie Hoff, Missy Franklin, Dagny Knutson, Kate Ziegler...the list goes on).