If you haven’t followed women’s NCAA swimming this season, you have missed out on some incredible performances. Many of these women were coming off of record breaking races at the Olympic Games in Rio and jumped right back in the water to train with their collegiate teams. Gold medalists like Katie Ledecky, Kathleen Baker and Simone Manuel came back to school to train and work toward an NCAA Championship. However, one of the most amazing things I observed as I followed this season was how athletes pushed the others around them to be better. Here are just a few examples:
At the PAC-12 Conference Championships, Stanford teammates Ella Eastin and Katie Ledecky went toe to toe in the 400 IM. On the last 100, Ledecky outsplit Eastin by 4 seconds and out touched her teammate, setting a new American Record at 3:57.68. However, just 3 weeks later – Eastin raced the 400 IM again at women’s NCAA Championships – where she broke Ledecky’s American record with a time of 3:57.57.
Now you may be thinking, 400 IM isn’t really Katie Ledecky’s race, but she’s untouchable in the freestyle events. However, University of Louisville’s Mallory Comeford had other plans. In one of the most exciting races of the meet, Comeford ran Ledecky down on the second 100 of the 200 free to tie for the NCAA Championship. (Side note, while the 200 free was an impressive race, it must be noted that Missy Franklin has been 1.2 seconds faster than the winning time). Ledecky’s other individual event of the meet was the 500 free, which she won in a dominating fashion, posting a new American Record of 4:24.06. However, the most impressive part of that race was to see Virginia’s Leah Smith chase Ledecky the entire 500, causing her to be only the second woman to break 4:30 in the 500 free with a time of 4:28.90. If Katie Ledecky weren’t Katie Ledecky, we would be doing a lot of talking about Leah Smith breaking the 4:30 mark.
So aside from throwing out a bunch of swimming information, what is my point? For the last 4 years, Katie Ledecky has set the bar higher than any other American female swimmer. Every time she touches the water, she races as if everything is on the line. In doing so, she has made the athletes around her better, whether they are teammates of hers, like Ella Eastin, or her competitors like Mallory Comeford and Leah Smith. That is the amazing thing about elite athletes, they have the ability to not only raise the bar but they also have the opportunity to bring others along with them.
Whether you are the athlete setting the standard, or you are the athlete chasing the standard – you all have the unique opportunity to make your teammates better. As the Proverb says, “Iron sharpens Iron,” and so at ATOM we place a high value on hard work and commitment knowing that we not only do it for ourselves but we do it for our teammates who train with us day in and day out. Raise the bar. Set the standard. Strive for excellence. Every day, you have the chance to help someone be better than they have ever been – and that is the essence of being a great teammate.