Simone Biles

Like life itself, no one owes you anything


Welcome to 2017. My friend of many years, Gianni Merlo, the Italian president of the international sportswriters association, keeps telling me to write shorter. In that spirit, here are 12 three-sentence nuggets (OK, some of them are long sentences):  

1. The 2016 and 2012 Olympic decathlete champion Ashton Eaton and his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the Rio heptathlon bronze medalist, announce their retirement. Great athletes, better people and congrats to them and their world-class coach and first-rate human being himself, Harry Marra. The hug Ashton and Brianne shared after she won the pentathlon at the 2016 IAAF world indoors in Portland, Oregon, is the moment of the year in the sport, if not the entire Olympic scene.

2. Nick Symmonds, the U.S. 800-meter runner, announces he’s going to retire, too, and the likes of my longtime colleague Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated assert Symmonds’ activism will be missd in a sport that “has been ruled by bureaucrats and shoe companies that have successfully suppressed athletes’ earning power and voices,” Tim adding that Nick has been “the most willing to place his career and earnings at risk.” That’s one point of view, along with Tim’s assertion that Nick, sponsored by Brooks, was “excluded” from the 2015 Beijing worlds team amid a dispute over when and where to wear Nike gear. The truth: Nick opted out because he refused to sign and it’s far from clear how far, age 31 that summer, he would have made it in the 800 rounds at the Beijing championships.

Nick Symmonds after taking silver in the men's 800 at the 2013 IAAF world championships in Moscow // Getty Images

3. Symmonds is a relentless self-promoter and provocateur who has failed significantly at the core notion some percentage of those who cover track and field for some bizarre reason seemingly keep wishing (or at least suggesting) he is something of a success at: getting other national-team athletes to go along with his act or significantly and constructively influencing corporate or federation policy. Tim writes, “There is not another Symmonds on the horizon, and that is an enormous loss.” Hmm — maybe if more people thought Nick had a point worth pursuing, there would be lots and lots more Nicks on the way, the 2004 Athens shot put champion Adam Nelson telling the New York Times, “It would have been great if he had found more ways to involve more athletes.”

4. In 2014, when he switched from Nike to Brooks, Nick wrote this in a piece that was published in Runner’s World: “In the past few years I have been very vocal about athletes’ rights, and Brooks’ support of professional runners for the health of competitive running is squarely in line with what I have been advocating.” Fascinating — tell that to Jeremy Taiwo, the U.S. decathlete. In March 2016, Brooks announced it had signed Taiwo to a deal, declaring Taiwo was part of the company’s “Inspire Daily” program, a “group of athletes and coaches around the country who lead by example and inspire the love of running every time they lace up and head out”; after the U.S. Trials in July in Eugene, the company hailed “Brooks Beast Jeremy Taiwo” for his second-place finish, behind Eaton, saying, “Brooks sponsors athletes like Taiwo to inspire runners everywhere, and supporting them on and off the run is central to that goal"; in Rio, Taiwo finished 11th; a few days ago, Brooks acknowledged it had dropped its sponsorship of Taiwo, declaring it was a “running-only company.”

5. Here is the unvarnished truth about the economics of track and field (and by extension the Olympic movement) in the United States, as popular or not as it may be: like life itself, no one is owed anything. The athletes are independent contractors, there is no union, no collective bargaining agreement, no teams, no league. Indeed, track and field is the essence of what most Americans say since kindergarten is what they believe in: self-determination, becoming what you dream you want to be, in short the ability to make money off your own talent, skill and enterprise.

6. Track and field’s world governing body, the IAAF, says the new “Nitro Athletics” meet next month in Australia, featuring “Usain Bolt’s All-Stars” and other teams, is destined to be “the innovation [track and field] needs.” For sure the presentation of track and field needs innovation. Not clear if a Team Tennis-style format is going to be it.

7. The gymnast Simone Biles is fabulous. But how did the swimmer Katie Ledecky not win every U.S. female athlete of the year award for 2016? She won the 800-meter freestyle in Rio by 11 seconds!

8. The European Olympic Committees is due to make a decision soon on whether to keep next month’s Winter European Youth Olympic Festival (that’s the name) in Erzurum, Turkey. The concern, obviously, is the security situation in Turkey, which really makes it not a difficult decision. If you were a parent — under what theory would you permit your kid to go?

9. Ban Ki Moon steps down as UN Secretary General. He and the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, are close. Is Ban the next president of scandal-wracked South Korea, and just in time for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games?

10. A U.S. intelligence assessment says Russian president Vladimir Putin sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, asserting one of the motives was payback for, among other things, allegations of widespread Russian athlete doping, the report asserting that from a Russian perspective the doping scandal and Panama Papers were seen as “U.S.-directed efforts to defame Russia.” This is the best intelligence the U.S. can produce? Maybe this is why President-elect Trump has been publicly so unimpressed: pretty much everything in that report has been public knowledge for weeks.

11. Thousands of words in that report, yet not even one about President Obama’s politically driven move to very publicly stick it to the Russians on the occasion of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, nominating to the formal U.S. delegation a number of gay athletes amid the furor over the Russian anti-gay legislation? That is a material omission. Who are the geniuses, exactly, working for these “intelligence” agencies?

12. Here’s what, if you are American, you really ought to be upset about, and it’s not Russia and Putin, because you have to assume hacking is, and has been for years, a fact of life, and it goes both ways. Getting all sanctimonious over a Russian “influence” campaign, meanwhile, willfully ignores the many times the U.S. government has sought to “influence” affairs in other nations. Here’s the dilemma: are the Russians really that much better at cyber stuff than the Americans?

The 'Fancy Bear' bid to stir up chaos


Within hours after the release by Russian hackers of U.S. athletes’ doping results, Victor Conte, the Bay-Area based figure at the center of the BALCO scandal, a guy who knows what’s what when it comes to the doping scene, sent out a note Tuesday to a wide email circle. It said, in part, “This is gonna get ugly.” Gonna get ugly?! This is ugly from the get-go. And it’s likely to stay ugly for the foreseeable future.

WADA officials Olivier Niggli and Craig Reedie at a conference earlier this year in Lausanne, Switzerland, the IOC's home base // Getty Images

This hack operates on a staggering number of levels. There are so many threads to pull: here, there, seemingly everywhere. The whole thing is designed not just to stir public opinion but to stir up nothing less than chaos in world sport and, perhaps, more — to agitate and antagonize governments in public as well as private diplomacy.

The basics:

Following World Anti-Doping Agency reports over the past several months that asserted widespread and state-sponsored doping in Russia, about a third of the Russian Olympic delegation, including virtually the entire track and field team, and the entire Russian Paralympic squad ended up banned from Rio 2016. The Paralympics are still ongoing.

On Tuesday, WADA confirmed that its database had been breached. At issue: confidential medical records of athletes who took part in last month’s Rio Olympics.

WADA further said that hackers gained access via an International Olympic Committee-created account.

The perpetrators, accordng to WADA: Fancy Bear, a Russian entity suspected as well of breaching the Democratic National Committee’s computers.

On Monday, Fancy Bear released information on four American athletes: the gymnast Simone Biles, basketball standout Elena Delle Donne and the tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams.

The documents show that each of the four had permission to take prescription drugs. In some cases, those drugs were used during the Games.

Some of the drugs contained banned substances.

But nobody is facing a doping case.

The reason: the anti-doping rules specifically say that there can be exceptions for certain medicines. Athletes can use a variety of stuff that might otherwise lead to a positive test if, one, they get a doctor’s note and, two, they file the appropriate paperwork.

That paperwork is called, in the jargon, a “therapeutic use exemption.”

To emphasize: there is no suggestion that any of the four have done anything wrong.

U.S. officials have linked Fancy Bear to GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency. For what it’s worth, the Russian government said Tuesday it had no connection to Fancy Bear.

This is the backdrop. From there, the super-obvious starting place:

Within Russia if not elsewhere, many will be tempted to draw the conclusion that the Americans, who won the Olympic medals count in Rio going away, are doping.

It is already widely believed that considerable numbers of U.S. athletes take advantage of TUE exemptions.

To stress: obtaining a TUE is within the rules.

It is also the case that, as in many things, perception is as important than reality, if not more so. Indeed, a Fancy Bear statement declares that U.S. athletes “got their licenses for doping.”


Tension is high between the IOC and WADA over the Russians. This is sure to add to that. To reiterate: the hack came through an IOC-created account. If you want to appreciate the delicious irony there, or maybe the hackers’ knowing instigation, go right ahead — a WADA hack through an IOC account. Who to blame, and for what?

There’s this:

Legally, do any of the four athletes, American citizens all, have recourse in the U.S. or Canadian court systems (WADA is based in Montreal) for money damages now that private medical records have been breached? Who is responsible for not safeguarding the sort of records that everyone knows — if you have ever been to even one American doctor’s office — is supposed to be private? For this sort of breach, what might be an appropriate remedy?

Then there another super-obvious follow-on:

Every single sports federation and national Olympic committee anywhere and everywhere in the world ought to be wondering: is my data safe?

Then there is the timing:

In mid-August, details emerged about the hack of Russian athlete and whistleblower Yulia Stepanova.

Next week WADA plans a post-Rio “think tank” to explore how it is the anti-doping campaign got into this crack, as well as others. Fancy Bear: “We will also disclose exclusive information about other national Olympic teams later.”

But, to start, there’s the central fact: these are Americans.

So why these four? Could it have anything to do with the fact that three are African-American while Delle Donne earlier this month disclosed she is gay and engaged to be married? Maybe these facts mean nothing. Or maybe it's naive to pretend otherwise.

Biles, moreover, carried the U.S. flag in the Rio Olympic closing ceremony.

The Williams sisters? When Maria Sharapova, the Russian tennis star, who carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 opening ceremony, is in the midst of a two-year ban for meldonium?

Sharapova’s appeal is due to be decided in early October. And WADA has walked back the rules in a number of other meldonium cases because of uncertainty over how long the stuff, which is made in Latvia and is designed to help patients with certain heart-related issues, stays in the body.

Biles acknowledged after the leak that she takes Ritalin or its equivalent for ADHD. It is "nothing to be ashamed of,” she said in a tweet.


At the same time, it would be a huge surprise if hackers didn’t intend for a parallel to be drawn — and, importantly, distinctions, too — between her and U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin.

Gatlin has — unfairly — been made into the poster guy for U.S. Olympic scene doping. Truth: he is far more a victim of circumstance.

So: Biles takes Ritalin (or, again, its equivalent). Gatlin took Adderall for ADD. It’s naive once more to pretend someone looking for connection would not see something there.

At the same time:

She gets nothing. He got a year. Why the difference? How can any sort of “fair” system allow such discrepancies? Returning to the Sharapova matter and meldonium: same question.

This is not just about American athletes, meanwhile. It’s about the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, too.

USADA chief executive Tygart, who is a very smart guy, has arguably made himself over the course of this year into the loudest and longest voice for an outright Russian ban.

This would thus seem to be as much about an attempt to embarrass Tygart as it is the four athletes.

In a statement, Tygart said, “It’s unthinkable that in the Olympic movement, hackers would illegally obtain confidential medical information in an attempt to smear athletes to make it look as if they have done something wrong.”

Please. It’s not unthinkable. If revenge is a thing, it’s totally rational if not foreseeable.

Finally, this, and this is where you have to really wonder how this is going to end up.

If none of this had come to pass, if WADA had been left alone, WADA — this is the dead-bang truth — can help the Russians.

In the context of getting back onto the track, for instance: what do the Russians want if not need? Answer: to get complaint again with all the rules so that Russian athletes can compete normally.

For its part, WADA wants, maybe even needs, to get the Russians compliant. And as soon as possible.

The tough sell is getting the rest of the world to believe the Russians are compliant.

That just got a lot, lot tougher.

'Iconic' or not, Rio sighs to close


RIO de JANEIRO — Imperfect for sure, like life itself, the Rio 2016 Summer Games sighed Sunday to a close, an Olympics likely to go down in history for first-rate sport that offered a break from a welter of financial, logistical and political challenges or perhaps served merely to underscore just how difficult it is, now, to put on an Olympic Games.

For every Michael Phelps, there was the story of green water in the diving pool. For every Usain Bolt, there was the stray bullet that pierced the tent at the equestrian center. For every Simone Biles, there were the winds that ripped an overhead television camera from its cable at Olympic Park, injuring seven people, two of them children.

Gold medalist Carmelo Anthony celebrates with the crowd after the U.S. men's 96-66 victory over Serbia // Getty Images

To draw an analogy from golf, which made its Olympic debut here with many of the world’s top male professionals opting out: these Games were a grind, hazards everywhere, the kind of round where any reasonable player would, upon sinking that last putt on 18 to complete a round pocked with bogeys,  pause to look around and go — whew.

Made it. Somehow.

“I am the happiest man alive,” the president of the Rio 2016 organizing committee, Carlos Nuzman, said at Sunday’s closing ceremony, a moment later calling these Games “a great challenge but a great success.”

The Rio Games may not have been the biggest, or the smoothest, or the most significant or, hardly, the best. But they were the first-ever in South America. And considering the political and economic upheaval buffeting Brazil, the assessment rendered Saturday at a news conference by the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, seems worth reviewing:

“An iconic Games but it is also a Games in the middle of reality,” he said, adding, “It has not been organized in a bubble but in a city where there are social problems and social divides, where real life continued.

“This was very good for everybody — to be close to reality and not in a bubble for 16 days and isolated from society.”

In 2009, when the IOC awarded these Games to Rio, over Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo, Brazil’s economy was booming. Party! Like the percussive dance jam that pumped through Sunday night’s closing ceremony at the famed Maracanã Stadium, accented by the return of the shirtless, oiled-up, buff opening ceremony flag bearer from Tonga, the taekwondo athlete Pita Taufatofua.

You wish you could be like him but you can't: Pita Taufatofua of Tongo

Problem is, between 2009 and Sunday night, the Brazilian economy crashed.

This made plain the No. 1 issue that bedeviled these 2016 Games. It was not lack of planning or late planning or attention to detail, though those were concerns. Instead, when issues stemming from planning or detail would arise, there simply was not sufficient money to make it 100 percent right. This reality, when the Paralympics open in just a couple weeks amid deep budget cuts, will be even more manifest.

Meanwhile, Brazil has been buffeted by political corruption and turmoil. The country is, even now, in the midst of a presidential impeachment drama.

Then, in the weeks before the Games, the headlines elsewhere frequently trumpeted fears of Zika, of scary water, of the street crime and way, way more, including outrage — from all sides — over reports of state-sanctioned doping in Russia.

It is worth noting that, before Brazil, the only nation to have put on both the soccer World Cup and the Olympics in a two-year span is the United States, soccer in 1994 and the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta. Those 1996 Games are not remembered fondly — with transit, technology and security woes.

The 2014 World Cup happened. And the many predictions of colossal disaster for Rio 2016: averted.

Zika: swarms of mosquitoes did not appear. Water: rowers, sailors, swimmers did their thing. Security: a lot of armed soldiers but, to be honest, that is now reality everywhere post-9/11.

Indeed, as soon as the sport itself got underway, the spotlight shifted to the athletes of the world, and their struggles and accomplishments.

To quote the American Sam Kendricks, bronze medalist in the men’s pole vault: "The Olympics is like high tide, it raises all boats and brings the best out of all of us."

The Russian ban meant its usually-strong track and field team — with the exception of one long jumper, Darya Klishina — didn’t travel. She finished ninth in the women’s long jump.

That helped open the door for the United States, in particular, to record its best medal count since the boycott-marked 1984 Los Angeles Games — 121 overall, 46 gold. Second depends how you count, by gold or overall. The American way prioritizes the overall count. China had 70, 26 gold. The rest of the world goes by the gold standard. Great Britain finished with 27 gold, 67 overall.

The Russian team finished with 56 and 19.

In 1984, the Americans won 174 total. In London four years ago, 103.

The U.S. swim team won 33 of the 121 medals. The track team, 32, Galen Rupp running Sunday morning to bronze in the men’s marathon.

Some stalwarts produced as expected.

Katie Ledecky won four gold medals (and a silver), setting two world records.

Phelps, five gold medals (and a silver). He now has 28 career Olympic medals, 23 gold.

Biles, the world’s best gymnast: four gold medals (and a bronze). She carried the U.S. flag into the  closing ceremony.

Usain Bolt completed the triple-triple, winning the 100m, 200m and taking part in the victorious 4x100m relay for a third straight Games — after London in 2012 and Beijing in 2008.

The U.S. women’s basketball team cruised to a sixth straight gold.

On Sunday, in one of the final contests of the Games, the U.S. men’s basketball team completed a three-peat under coach Mike Krzyzewski, defeating Serbia, 96-66, for gold. The NBA star and USA Basketball stalwart Carmelo Anthony won his third gold medal— the only male basketball player in Olympic history with three golds.

Before the game, Krzyzewski was asked about the 2016 Games. He said, “We’ve been treated in just amazing fashion and the care, the security, the friendliness, just the hospitality of the Brazilian people, have been spectacular. I hope we win but I’ll tell you what — we’ll go away with a great feeling about Rio. We’ve loved being here. We could not have been treated better.”

“This is still a magic city and a magic place,” Nuzman insisted Sunday night.

Kim Jong-un impersonator at the closing ceremony // Getty Images

Some performances, even if unexpected, proved thrilling — the magic, perhaps, of the Olympic experience.

Brazil gained a measure of revenge for the 7-1 2014 German World Cup semifinal beatdown by defeating Germany to win gold in men’s soccer, 5-4 on penalties after tying 1-1 in regulation.

South Africa’s Wayde van Niekerk not only won gold in the men’s 400m, he set a new world record, 43.03 seconds — obliterating Michael Johnson’s 1999 mark, 43.18. Britain’s Mo Farah completed the distance double-double, winning the men’s 5000m and 10000m runs, just as he had in London. Matthew Centrowitz of the United States won the men’s 1500m at the track, the first gold for the United States in that event since 1908 — a signal of karma, perhaps, for Chicago Cubs fans everywhere.

The American swimmer Anthony Ervin, 35 years old, won the men’s 50m free a full 16 years after he had done the very same thing in Sydney. The U.S. track standout Allyson Felix won three medals, two gold in the relays, and now has six golds overall — most of any female track athlete in Olympic history.

If the essence of that Olympic experience, meantime, is the gathering of the world’s young people, there was more, way more, in the unexpected category.

The Fiji men’s rugby sevens team won that island nation’s first-ever Olympic medal. It was gold. 

Kosovo judoka Majlinda Kelmendi won that eastern Europe nation’s first-ever Olympic medal. It was gold. 

Singapore swimmer Joe Schooling won that small Southeast Asian nation’s first-ever Olympic gold. He won the men’s 100m butterfly, with Phelps, South Africa’s Chad le Clos and Hungary’s Laszlo Cseh forging a three-way tie for silver.

The 10 members of the refugee Olympic team didn’t win any medals - not hardly. 

No matter.

“I hope,” swimmer Yusra Mardini, who escaped the war in Syria, said after the heats of the women’s 100m freestyle, “refugees are not refugees any more and they have their hope to continue their dreams after they see us."

At the beach volleyball venue, in an early-round women’s match, Egypt played Germany, Egyptian Doaa Elghobashy fully clothed and her head covered in a hijab, the German duo in bikinis.

Before the Brazil-Argentina men’s basketball game last weekend, a thrilling affair that went to double overtime, Argentina prevailing, 111-107, Brazil’s Marcelo Huertas and Argentina’s Luis Scola addressed the crowd to make a plea for the key Olympic values: friendship, excellence and, most of all, respect.

“We’re Latin American brothers,” Huertas said, “and we are counting on you to have a celebration."

Scola said, “On behalf of my team, I want to ask you to cheer for your team, to have fun in a civilized manner and with a lot of respect."

Closing ceremonies fireworks // Getty Images

This, in the end, is the enduring lesson of the Olympics — one the American swimmer Ryan Lochte is sure to have considerable time to mull over in the aftermath of his purported robbery story, a tale that hijacked considerable focus the second week of the Games away from the hopes and dreams of the many athletes still here.

The IOC has opened a review of the matter. The U.S. Olympic Committee, in a news conference Sunday, said disciplinary action of some sort is forthcoming, chief executive Scott Blackmun saying of Lochte and three other swimmers, “They let down our athletes. They let down Americans.”

Meanwhile, Ireland’s Patrick Hickey, a member of the IOC’s policy-making executive board, was arrested on suspicion of involvement in a ticket scam. If Monday is travel day for most who were here, the 71-year-old Hickey’s immediate future remains entirely unclear. He reportedly was locked up in the maximum security Bangu Prison here while the wheels of Brazilian justice start to spin.

Because of the way the Olympic cycle works, it’s now roughly 17 months until the next edition of a Games — the 2018 Winter Olympics, in the hamlet of Pyeongchang, South Korea. This past Tuesday, Taylor Fletcher won his first U.S. national title in Nordic combined; in warm weather, they substitute roller skis for the waxed winter kind. 

In between Rio and Pyeongchang, at an assembly in September, 2017, in Lima, Peru, the IOC will make its 2024 pick. Los Angeles, Paris, Rome and Budapest are in the hunt.

Tokyo will put on the 2020 Games. The IOC here affirmed the introduction of new sports at those 2020 Olympics, among them surfing, skateboarding and rock climbing. Late Sunday, as Rio came to a close, the Olympic Channel went online — the Olympic movement’s digital effort to make the Games more relevant than a thing every two weeks every two years, to highlight the stories of the athletes who, despite everything, can and do provide inspiration to the little kids they used to be and, as well, the grown-ups trying to make sense of our imperfect world.

As Bach said in opening these Rio Olympics, “We are living in a world of crises, mistrust and uncertainty. Here is our Olympic answer."

Further crises and uncertainties assuredly await. The next editions of the Olympics, too, “iconic” or not.

Swimming as must-see, starring Katie Ledecky


OMAHA — Katie Ledecky makes swimming must-see. In-person. On TV. Online. Whatever.

Whenever the 19-year-old gets on the blocks, there is the wondrous sense of possibility in the chlorinated air.

It just feels like something might — very well — happen.

Katie Ledecky at the 2016 Trials // Getty Images

On Saturday, in the 800-meter freestyle, an event she has owned since 2012, where at just 15 she won gold at the London Olympics, Ledecky — in predictably awesome fashion — ran away with the event, winning in 8:10.32, flirting for the first half of the race with the — her own — world record.

The victory sends her to Rio to swim in the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles, plus at least one and maybe two relays.

She will be favored in all three individual events. She won all three at the 2015 swimming world championships in Kazan, Russia.

Ledecky would be favored in the 1500 if there were a 1500 at the Olympics for women. There isn’t, an anachronism. Last year, in Kazan, she won that, too.

Reflecting later Saturday on her 800 swim here, Ledecky said, “I think I can take what I did tonight and improve on that in Rio.”

She also said of 8:10.32, “It just didn’t feel like it was anything special.” That time is only the third-best ever.

To prove that she is actually human, Ledecky did not qualify here for the 100 free. She took seventh.

The thing with Ledecky is not just that she wins. That’s almost a given.

In the 100, incidentally, she is getting better each year. Watch out.

Better, just watch.

Each Ledecky swim can make for extraordinary theater.

Same with Michael Phelps, who — in his last-ever swim at the U.S. Trials, and this time he said he means it — came back strong in the second half of the men’s 100 butterfly for the victory in 51-flat. Tom Shields took second, in 51.2, just as he ran second behind Phelps in the 200 fly.

Michael Phelps at his last Trials as a competitor // Getty Images

Maya DiRado, like Phelps and Ledecky a three-time Trials winner // Getty Images

Phelps was exultant when he saw the result, slapping the water.

Later, he told the crowd that he had “choked up a hair” when talking on-camera to NBC just moments after the race, adding, “This country is the best.” He also swore -- vowed -- that 2016 is, really, it. Asked if he might consider 2020, he said, "No. No, no, no, no, no. I’m done. The body is done."

Missy Franklin pulled out another gut-check, finishing second in the women’s 200 backstroke behind Maya DiRado, who quietly won three events here while considerable attention was focused on the likes of Ledecky, Phelps, Ryan Lochte and others — that 200 back and both individual medleys, 200 and 400.

“One of the things I’ve been trying to do this whole year is not compare myself to where I was in 2012,” Franklin would say later, adding, “I came here to be the best of who I am right now, not — not the best of who I was four years ago.”

At these Trials, three swimmers have won three events: Phelps, Ledecky, DiRado.

“This,” DiRado said, “is a dream.”

Phelps, starting in 2004, was the first to make swimming a destination event.

Now, Ledecky.

Which, when you stop to consider that for just a moment, is almost crazy. Unlike track, basketball, beach volleyball or whatever, you can’t see the swimmers’ faces when they compete. There shouldn’t be any emotional get.

And yet with Ledecky, there is.

In the July/August issue of the Atlantic, the last sentence of an article by Meghan O’Rourke about “extreme gymnastics,” which focuses in part on the American champion Simone Biles, makes a point about Biles that applies in equal force to Ledecky:

“When Biles takes the floor mat, what you’ll see—I hope—is not a stressed-out, anorexic little girl, but a 19-year-old athlete soaring through the air, fully enjoying herself.”

Similarly, when Ledecky gets up to race, she’s not there to do anything but immerse herself in the pursuit of seeing just how good she can be.

Fear, pressure, nerves — those are for others.

“I think I still had the same amount of fun I did four years ago,” she would say late Saturday when asked to compare the 2016 and 2012 Trials. “That’s going to be key in Rio. Just enjoying the Olympic experience. It’s an experience like no other.”

It was in 2013 — at the Barcelona worlds — that Ledecky signaled it would be showtime when she stepped on deck.

She won the 400, 800 and 1500, and a gold in the 4x200 relay, too. And set two world records.

That Barcelona 1500, featuring Ledecky, along with Lotte Friis of Denmark and Lauren Boyle of New Zealand, remains a strong candidate for best women’s distance race, ever.

A brief recap:

— At 100 meters, Ledecky was at 58.75, Friis at 59.15. This was the 100-meter world-record pace in 1971 of Australian Shane Gould.

— At 200 meters, Ledecky was 66-hundredths of a second ahead. Now they were racing at the 200-meter pace set by East German Kornelia Ender in the mid-1970s.

From 300 to 1200 meters, Ledecky let Friis set the pace. Then, at 1300 meters, Ledecky dropped the hammer.  With one lap to go, Ledecky was up by 1.07 seconds. After 15 minutes of swimming, she then swam the last 50 meters in 29.47 seconds. In touching in 15:36.53, she lowered the world record, which had stood for six years through the nuttiness of the plastic suits, by six seconds.

Friis also went under the world record, by four seconds. Boyle’s third-place time would have been the best swim of 2012, an Olympic year, and by 21 seconds.

Ledecky has since lowered the 1500 mark four more times. The current mark, set in Kazan: 15:25.48.

Like Phelps, Ledecky swims hard and relentlessly, with a cold fury. That is a compliment.

Like Phelps, too, Ledecky swims extraordinarily high in the water. You don’t have to know the first thing about swimming to know which lane Katie Ledecky is in.

The snippy answer to that, of course, would be the one in which the swimmer is the one way in front.


But Ledecky has a distinct, powerful style. Many guy swimmers have said she swims like a guy. That, too, is a compliment.

Off the blocks, Ledecky is lovely to be around. She is smart, funny and has an extraordinary support system — family, coaches, community.

When she gets up to race, however, all that has to wait.

Every Ledecky swim seemingly holds the promise of a record.

Which, she said, is for the ladies and gentlemen of the press — not her — to consider: “You guys can write whatever you want. I appreciate your coverage of the sport … I’m just going to focus on my racing and what my goals are, and anybody else’s expectations don’t really mean that much to me. No offense.”

None taken. So, consider:

Ledecky has not lost internationally in the 800 since 2012.

She won the 800 at the 2013 worlds in Barcelona.

She won the 800 at the major 2014 meet, what’s called the Pan Pacific championships.

She won in Kazan.

The all-time top-10 women’s 800 performances: all, one through 10, Katie Ledecky.

Starting in 2013, meanwhile, Ledecky has set a world record in the 800 every year:

In 2013, she lowered the mark that Rebecca Adlington had set at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, 8:14.1, to 8:13.86.

In 2014, Ledecky went 8:11 flat.

In 2015, 8:07.39.

In January of this year, 8:06.68.

The 800 she swam Saturday is nine seconds faster than she swam at the 2012 Trials: 8:19.78.

On Saturday, after 50 meters, she was already a body length ahead. At 100, almost a full second under world record pace. By 250, 1.42 under. Then she “slowed,” if that is the word, for someone who won the race by nearly 10 seconds.

To underscore how Ledecky is just in a different realm:

Leah Smith’s second-place time, 8:20.18, was the third-fastest time in the world this year. Jessica Ashwood of Australia went 8:18.14 in June.

Asked if she thought the 100 “took more out of you than expected,” Ledecky had this to say:

“Probably. It was a different week, a different set of events than I’ve done in the past and, yeah — you take three rounds of the 100 out, and my schedule gets a little easier in Rio.

“So that’s good.”