A bolt from the blue — like, the water — for this Wednesday: Swimming legend Katie Ledecky will train with the Florida Gators for the 2024 Olympics, and also serve as a volunteer coach for the program.
Ledecky, who hails from Bethesda, Md., completed her degree at Stanford this year and, after swimming in her third Olympic Games, is taking the opportunity to be closer to home and family while training for the next phase of her swimming career.
”I’m excited to be a part of the University of Florida’s world-class swimming and diving program and train for the 2024 Olympics with Coach Anthony Nesty, and the top-tier mid-distance and distance training group,” said Ledecky. “My years at Stanford, both academically and athletically, were nothing short of incredible and I’m looking forward to the opportunity and challenges that lie ahead in Gainesville.”
“The knowledge and experience that Katie brings to the pool are unparalleled,” Nesty said. “In addition to her obvious excellence as a swimmer, Katie is an exceptional person who will make a great impact on the student-athletes here. Katie’s values are in total alignment with the Florida program, and we’re so excited to have her join the Gators as she continues to train for the 2024 Olympics.”
Florida’s release — unlike Ledecky’s Stanford-centric statement — obviously plays up the volunteer coach aspect of Ledecky’s decision, because it’s about what value Ledecky is going to provide to Florida as arguably the most overqualified volunteer coach in the history of the sport. Her only competition for that title would be Michael Phelps, who served as a volunteer coach at Michigan and Arizona State while following his coach, Bob Bowman, around during his career as the most decorated swimmer of all time.
But this is a bigger deal because of what it says about the value Ledecky will derive from training in Gainesville and with Nesty.
Ledecky doesn’t have the same sort of long-running connection to Nesty — who did coach American middle-distance swimmers at the Tokyo Olympics earlier this year — that Phelps did to Bowman, and she has trained for her Olympiads near her Maryland home and through competing as a collegiate swimmer at (and then sticking around) Stanford, one of the premier programs in collegiate swimming. It’s something of a shock, frankly, that she would decamp to Gainesville, so much so that Sports Illustrated writer Pat Forde — who, in addition to covering swimming, is the father of Brooke Forde, an Olympian who swam with Ledecky at Stanford and in Tokyo — is part of this announcement, with his own reported story on it also dropping this morning.
Forde writes that — as one might expect — Ledecky is likely coming to Gainesville in large part because she will be challenged by Gators in the pool in a way that she could not be challenged by her typical competition in Palo Alto.
Per Forde, Florida’s men’s and women’s teams training together provides advantages that Stanford’s more divided training groups do not. Tokyo revelation Bobby Finke is set to be the star of collegiate swimming for the rest of his career, and he swims the 800 and 1,500 meters — the exact events that Ledecky has long been without real competition in, at least from her gender.
Ledecky holds world records in both events, and has not lost in a major final at either distance in her career. But she has not recently challenged her record times, and has also been pushed in those events — and exceeded at other distances — by Australian Ariarne Titmus. Swimming with Finke every day or close to it gives her something closer to a peer to measure herself against.
Ledecky’s also coming to Gainesville to work with Nesty, whose work with Finke, fellow current Gator Kieran Smith, and former Gator and superstar Caeleb Dressel made that trio the spine of the U.S. men’s team in Tokyo, and helped them earn a combined eight medals, seven of them gold.
And that says a lot about Florida’s coach.
Forde reports that Nesty is “the landslide favorite” to coach the U.S. swimming team that will head to the Paris Olympics in 2024. For a man who shouldered the daunting task of following former Florida coach Gregg Troy — who is still a towering figure in swimming in his own right, coaching Dressel and others despite his retirement as a collegiate swim coach — when he took over as Florida’s men’s coach in 2018, it’s an impressive ascent out of Troy’s shadow and into the limelight.
With Dressel and Ledecky under his tutelage over the next few years and a likely spot at the head of the 2024 team coming with that, Nesty is now suddenly either the preeminent coach in swimming or something close to it.
And one hopes that should come with a commensurate commitment to him from Florida — which currently has outdated swimming facilities, as Forde writes — that will keep him in Gainesville for as long as he wants to be. If the Gators want to keep bragging about things like Ledecky coming to town to work under their coach, keeping that coach happy and providing for him and all of the athletes who work with him now becomes a priority.
Of course, Nesty and the growing contingent of Gators and Gainesville-based swimmers have stayed on top of their respective fields despite the facilities at Florida to date. Should this seismic move by Ledecky lead to Florida further shoring up its foundation as one of the premier swim programs in collegiate swimming and capitalizing on Gainesville being the place for the best swimmers in the world to train, one has to think glory and gold will follow.