Bruce Gemmell: Katie Ledecky ‘Thanked Me For Allowing Her To Try Gruelling Sched’

Katie Ledecky - a prayer to the goddess of going the distance into uncharted waters, with coach Bruce Gemmell - main image by Patrick B. Kraemer (inset by Craig Lord)

The tomes of analysis that may one day our over the achievements of Katie Ledecky will surely include the work and words of Bruce Gemmell, voted Women’s Coach of the Year for 2015 by the SwimVortex editorial panel and the readers of this website

All SwimVortex articles are placed in our archive after five days, the library of content available to subscribers.
Log In Register



Ledecky was 15 when she won Olympic gold.
I am wondering would Bruce Gemmell be chosen the best coach of the year should it be no Ledecky. Same person, same experience, same level of knowledge and expertisize. The answer will be probably “no”. On the other hand how right it is to measure coach’s achievement by success of his pupil only. The Ledecky-Gemmell case maybe the most difficult one. How to estimate the level of coach’s contribution to Katie’s phenomenal results. When I’m listening her story told by both her humble coaches I am getting an impression that for this swimmer doesn’t matter who is next to her. That all goals, targets and training efforts are coming from inside and are not set by somebody else. I see changes in her style and strategies over these three years and I am thinking if it would be any difference if she was trained by someone else. Fortunately there is no way to figure out that and we attribute all these searches and discoveries of hidden resources to Gemmell’s experience, knowledge and wisdom. The fact that she decided to stay with Gemmell to prepare for Rio may support the the idea that she couldn’t be at the level where she is now without him. But it could be anther explanations that she simply didn’t want to change living and training environment.
I totally agree that this double in Kazan was the most dramatic experience in Ledecky’s career. The challenge met says more about Ledecky’s character than any of her records. But it was a gambling, pure and simple. She just got lucky to pass this bottleneck. The chances that Sjostrom skips 200 fs and other competitors will swim well below their potentials were low. The coach should’ve not allow to do that if he has a power of making decisions. She got lucky. Very lucky.

Craig Lord

You make your own luck, I’m often told by elite swimmers and their coaches, Yozhik – and I see their point of view. KL won it because she was the best on the day and had the gut and conditioning to get her hand to the wall in a race with swimmers who have faster times on the clock and could have beaten her – but didn’t. As for the coach of the year, swimming is a fairly simple thing when it comes to how we measure things: you swim the fastest time, you win – and time counts in the next home.
The world is full of terrific coaches who work with kids day in and day out, decade in and decade out. Many do very fine work as teachers and mentors and guides – and their work is often appreciated by the swimmers much later in life as they move on and find their way in other worlds once their racing days are done. We can’t possibly measure that nor would I wish to judge and compare one case above another – that makes no sense to me. It is a King Lear-style question that leads to madness 🙂 We can measure what the best of a world championships was: KL, the outstanding swimmer; Bruce Gemmell her coach – some may wish to gripe about that. I had no hesitation in my vote. To honour another over him would raise far more questions and doubts than to grant him the honour I believe he deserves. Of course he would not have been coach of the year without Ledecky – that scenario would be the same for just about any coach and big-named swimmer you care to mention. Same for Mel Marshall; same for Bob Bowman; etc etc. The train of thought leads us to ‘well, the coach is not so significant after all’… based on my experience of knowing what coaches have brought to a particular story of success down long years, that would be a mistake.

Gin Ichi

Yozhik, we can see the progress of Ledecky in this three years. If you know Missy and Cal’s case, the coach is important. Bruce help preparing Ledecky, setting plan for her(1500+200), “letting” his pupil challenge this task.
The 200 final, indeed pure and simple. Ledecky set for everything she can do to face the 3 round, her competitors no. If anyone swim faster than her at premiere, she will be on first semi, less of few minute rest, she might just out of final. Ledecky was not on the last heat, she got Hosszu same heat beside her(Hossze said after the premiere, she can be faster than Ledecky, she just saving for the semi). Federica and Missy next heat, Femke last heat, they all didn’t stop her, and they paid for it at the final.
The final is all about strategy, those who need to be fast at the first half(Missy and Fede) didn’t go out fast enough, those who were faster that Ledecky at the first half(Hosszu and Femke) faded at coming home. Then we got our winner, who was fast at the first half and strong at the finish.


The article ends up being more about KL than it is about her coach, so perhaps Yoxhik has a point. I recall a statement from Matt Biondi’s coach: “My main responsibility now is to stay out of his way”.

Going back to KL, this article stresses once again that she is the kind of opponent you don’t want to find pitted against you, be it in the ring, the pool or else: a Samurai warrior who will get herself killed before she gives up. As I wrote already, good luck to her rivals in all the races she competes in at the Olympics, 200 free included.


@Craig Lord. I hope that this one day that will explains us in details the phenomenon of Katie Ledecky is not that far in the future. And we will learn how important or not were contributions of people who assisted her with these unparalleled achievements. So far we are just enjoying with the sea of “sport illustrated” stories that shed very little light on this mystery.
Many of us can tell wonderful stories of their favorite coaches. My coach had never missed a single practice and was never late. For years. We hated him for that. We were very innovative in cheating our parents and teachers to skip classes at school, but we could not do it with practices. We knew that no matter how cold was outside or how difficult it was to get to the pool using poorly functioning public transportation or how sick he was, we knew that he would be there waiting for us. After my parents he was the most influential person in my life. If someone asked me that time who the best coach in the world was my answer would be obvious. I never told him that and nobody of my teammates probably did. RIP.
But this awarding stuff is something completely different from appreciation that comes from our hearts. You and many others of your subscribers have chosen Bruce Gemmell the best coach of the year and I have not seen any explanations “WHY”. What was that special in treatment and coaching of such unique talent? I dislike very much the attitude of Mr. Sweetenham in Cleveland but he may made a right point – Mr. Gemmell did nothing special and different with Miss. Ledecky that any other coach will.
If awarding process is that simple – the best swimmer of the year automatically determine the best coach of the year then you have to look in different direction. If you do not state openly that FINA’s favorite of the year is a cheater then you have to admit that Hosszu’s success is either strongly motivated by money or it all should be credited to Shane Tusup who made from someone who was just another good swimmer or worldwide sensation. He did something that was never done by any other coach. Ever.

Craig Lord

Yozhik, I disagree with your assessment and my priorities rest elsewhere.


Gin Ichi, we cannot be conclusive about Franklin’s case yet. It is possible that Franklin’s best performances given her by the Nature are behind already. And where she is now would happen regardless if she swam for college or not. We can tell it for sure only in couple years. The only thing I can blame on her coach to some extent is her back problem story [this website has reported before that Missy had her back problem when she arrived at CAL – ED]. Usually such things don’t happen form nowhere. There should be some symptoms. There is a part of coach responsibility to foresee the possibility of such things coming. Plus, there is no reference to similar problems during her college seasons. The problem happened during preparation for LCM competition when Franklin was probably poorly guided, because those competions had nothing to do with job her coach has been paid for.


Gin Ichi, I agree that only a blind person cannot see the progress of Ledecky in these three years. I would rather say that a lot of experiments with different strategies and probably training processes contributed to her success. Some examples. In the beginning I looked at her as representative of new wave in long distance racing when legs are used intensively during entire race. And what we see now – no legs at all until final lap. It happens at 1500, it happens at 800 I see it at 400 as well. In 2014 she had obvious problem with the middle part of 800 race that was supposed to be swam at cruise speed which she had problem to maintain. But look at her last two 800m and 1000 yards records. Negative splits. That was the solution to the stagnation at these distances in 2014.
There are plenty of other observations of changes in Ledecky’s styles and tactics that cannot be explained by the self-coaching only. But for some reasons her coach doesn’t say anything about that [He has done – it hasn’t been widely reported – it will be at some stage down the line – ED], making by [Yozhik, by all means have your opinion but please don’t stray into opinion presented as fact … in 3 interviews with this coach I have not found him to do what you suggest in any way… that’s pure remote – and inaccurate – interpretation; your words suggest this man is self-serving and boastful, which would be to misrepresent him – ED] hat a room for doubts if Ledecky would not be where she is now without his help.


@CL. This article still has “..Katie Ledecky, the teenager who stepped up to Olympic gold at 16 …” Hasn’t she been 15?

Leave a comment

Post a comment with your SwimVortex Account. Don't have a SwimVortex Account, Sign Up?

(*) Fields are required!