Bruce Gemmell On Boys’ Club Building The Beast Of All Distance Sisters: Katie Ledecky

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)

“In a cake factory… some people just want to work on the sprinkles; you got to bake the cake first.” – Coach Bruce Gemmell on how the recipe came together for Katie Ledecky on the way to the distance freestyle pantheon in Kazan

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“In a cake factory… some people just want to work on the sprinkles; you got to bake the cake first.” – Coach Bruce Gemmell on how the recipe came together for Katie Ledecky on the way to the distance freestyle pantheon in Kazan

Comments

Ger

Kudos again Craig for another great piece. A work still in progress, what will she do during the next year? And there won’t be any 1500 burdens to carry either.
I do question the 1:54, on demand, 200m. She won the final by a touch and if she could have done it easier, she surely would have. It was a great performance and she gave it her all, I would have said.

clive rushton

Craig, the “rate of 1.36-1.38m per stroke ” should be measured in seconds (time), not in meters (distance), so 1.36-1.38s per cycle or 44-43 cycles per minute. It’s an exercise intensity that sits right on the cusp of the limit of metabolic contribution (combination of fiber-type recruitment and energy-conversion methids. Anything more is down to sheer bloody-minded mental effort, exactly what your article promotes as her defining characteristic.

Sue Campbell

Incredible coaching from Mr. Gemmell, with a very deliberate plan for the World Championship results, and for her (increasingly exciting) future. In 2016, I hope Ledecky may reach the 8:02-8:05 range in the 800m and around 3:56 in the 400m.

The 200m will be an extraordinary race between a number of swimmers. Is it known whether Sarah Sjostrom will be swimming the 200m at the Olympic Games? I presume it is a bit early to know. If so, how do you think Sjostrom and Ledecky would match up (in terms of pacing, heavy race schedule causing fatigue, etc.)? Have the two ever raced over 200m?

Great reporting, Craig… always enjoy learning more about the training of the swimmers, especially when the knowledge is freely shared by the coaches.

Yozhik

@Roy. Ledecky’s splits

https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/109797241/Capture2.JPG

Yozhik

Actually not much was said by Bruce Gemmell, besides the well-known fact that Katie Ledecky is exceptional and strongly determined swimmer. It’s either he doesn’t have to say anything more or he doesn’t want to discuss the know-how. I prefer the later. It would be incorrect to suggest that the significant progress she made since London should be attributed entirely to her genes and was possible without guidance from talented coach who is learning together with his pupil. But the question is if Bruce Gemmell’s training system created for Ledecky is sufficient enough to reveal all potentials of this extraordinary gifted swimmer. I would like to hear some comments on this 8:07 race swum with negative splits. Was it designed this way beforehand? The only thing said was that the Family decided to celebrate Grandfather’s 88th birthday with 8:8 record. Was the Coach at this gathering? 🙂 I would like to hear how the coach plans to improve Katie’s sprinter abilities to make her able to compete with Sjostrom should the later enters 200m race. If 1:55.16 is where Ledecky is now then at least 1% improvement is required. To understand how much that is compare it with numbers that illustrate Ledecky’s unprecedented dominance at 400m – 1.2%, at 800m – 1.6%, at 1500m – 1.4%. I would like to hear that this long distance coaching specialist knows how to train a MIDDLE DISTANCE champion who can also swim from time to time at world record time at 800m and 1500m. The only hint given to us was that they have something to improve with her turns. But she already swam underwater more distance than anybody else. That is exactly what helped her to beat Pellegrini at 200m final. Do they plan to make underwater all 15m at each turn? The way how Gemmell sounded makes me to believe that he knows more than says and that Katie will not disappoint in Rio. Let’s see.

easyspeed

No magic formula here people; the kid just wants it more than anyone else. Think about it: next season no distractions from having to go to class and do homework. She can focus on training 100%.

Nice job on the write up.

Gin Ichi

Yozhik, Ledecky’s family suggested her to swim a 8:08 because that day was her grandfather’s birthday, it wasn’t a rule to swim 8:08. Judging by her post-interview and other’s comment, everyone were predicting it will be 8:08, so 8:07 is a big surprise. About her turn, she will look to her left sometime before the turn, it has slow her down a little bit. I think Bruce still want to lowering her turning speed. After all, compare to her start, stroke, underwater, her turn still is the weakest point.

Craig Lord

Roy, the emphasis on the turn is going into the wall, the coach indicated (she lifts her head going in, loses a fraction each turn)

Craig Lord

Yozhik, there is a lot more than ‘only’ in there. If she is lapping sets of 100s in 54.6s and has a base lap target of 56.5 and is hitting it come April next year, she will have a killer last 100 in the 200 … regardless of whether you work out what that pace means in yards or metres …. the ultimate sums are easy to work out; and she doesn’t need to be a ‘sprinter’ … thats for the Campbells and Co – and she’ll never beat them sprinting. What is not hard ti imagine if a 56/58sec flat 100m splits 200m swim or thereabouts come Rio in a week that will have no 1500 to get in the way.

Craig Lord

Roy, you can easily do the maths: 8mins would be 1min laps; 15mins 1500 would be 1min laps, so clearly she is not averaging inside the minute; the 56.5 refers to a time she is doing in sets of 100s (i.e. 20×100 – yards ad metres – that kind of stuff) with rest in the middle … she is not lapping 56.5 for a straight 800 in training or racing, obviously not.

Craig Lord

Thanks for the explanation Clive

coachswim

Re: The discussion of the base pace -(57/56.5/etc) that is in Yards. I remember Gemmell saying that in a talk I heard from him a year ago. Most of Ledecky’s training is in SCY. They use the Jon Urbanchek colors system as their guide. (Gemmell swam for Urbanchek about 30 years ago when this system was starting to take form). When Ledecky does train LCM in the summer (there are few LCM pools in the Washington DC area available in the winter), they do a lot of pace 100s for races (those 1:01s for example).

But when using 57 base, Ledecky’s “white” 100s should be 57.5, pink 100s 55.7, red 100s 54.7, blue 100s 53.0. This is all short course yards. You can also apply the base pace for times for longer distances (200,300, etc). This way you can track progress and use a faster base when the colors become easier. The “base” is ideally based on a T-30 or any 30minute endurance set (what can you hold for 30min straight? For Ledecky- 56.5 in short course yards sounds like the goal this year for example). See the calculator here.

http://www.findingfreestyle.com/?q=colorzones

coachswim

Also Gemmell occasionally posts practice sets on his twitter – coachgemmell – on March 10, 2015 there is a freestyle set on the left of a white erase board with 300s and 100s and in a box in the corner, it lists the times that should be matched over these distances using the 55. 56, or 57 base pace for the colors. It is short course yards (see the intervals and the goal times). Still challenging, but not as absurd as swimming 56.5 over 100 meters on a regular basis.

Craig Lord

Thanks coach swim; I’ve now made that clear in copy, sorry for any confusion (travelling for many hours and was unable to get to it): the presentation included a mixture of yards and metres sessions expressed in 1000s, not always stating whether they were swimming yards or metres … but overall sums were often expressed in metres… the bottom line is that she’s used to repping 1:01s over multiple 100-metre diatnces, which is reflected in the peak pace she’s racing at. I hope that comes across.

Yozhik

Gin Ichi, of course this ’88’motivation was mentioned half seriously, but it shows some details between coach and his pupil. There was an initiation period when Ledeckys and Gemmell checked if they were good for each other. The 800m race in Barcelona performed under coach’s instruction and being just a little bit faster than in London looked so unnatural for Katie leaving her almost out of breath at the end. It was the last race, but nevertheless. Then I thought that this coach doesn’t understand the specifics of this attacking everything and everybody girl and maybe is not a right choice for her. Things changed since then and we see that Katie’s attitude in the pool became more sophisticated and I give all credits to her coach with that. However Bruce mentioned multiple times that he never knows how Katie is going to race. She obviously didn’t followed coach’s instructions at the end of 1500 final by adding extra efforts with powerful kicking to make an impressive world record. That almost jeopardized her 200m semi and as a consequence effected her performance in final race. I think that Bruce and Katie have kind of team type of mutually respectful relationship. They praise each other for out-of-pool attitude on very many occasions. Have you seen anything like this in the case of let say 18 year old Phelps or Lochte?

Craig Lord

Yes, to your last question, Yozhik: I have. My notebooks have plenty of references of such respect and praise Troy/Lochte & Phelps/Bowman … and criticism of coach when swimmer does not stack up beyond the pool.

Yozhik

Craig I don’t argue that Ledecky can be a sprinter in terms of being a match to Sisters, Sjostrom and girls from Holand. But there is some opinion exists that in order to be compatible at 200m she has to swim first part of race as close to sprinters as she possibly can and that is the only her resource for improvement. It is kind of same argument that is used for the super sprinter Sjostrom saying that she has to go under special 200m training. Then in Ledecky’s case people think that she has to improve her 100m speed. In this regard I agree with you that attempts to approach sprinters by changing her technique and training excersizes is a wrong way for Ledecky because she is not a natural sprinter. The Heemskerk example with the very slow 57sec start can be the perfect receipie for Katie at 200m race.

Ger

Yozhik, the plan for the 1500m, both heat and final, was to go easy for 900m, build for 300m, and swim the last 300m as she pleased. There was no ignoring instructions. She might have been wiser taking it easier, for, as you say, she had a tough 200m straight after, but it was her decision.
If Ledecky is indeed set on swimming the 4×100 relay then we will surely see her swimming 100m races at meets in the coming months, which will also serve the 200m.

Yozhik

Ger, the plan you mentioned was set for the risk free preliminary race. I don’t know what the plan for the final was. But what was said by Katie and by Bruce is that they expected more resources left for the 200 semi. The surge at last 50 at 1500m final was a risky undertaking and most likely wasn’t recommended by coach. He was really worry about this semi and told that Ledecky should be considered an underdog at 200. He did it to low expectations.

Yozhik

Ger, since London the most progress in percentage form was done by Ledecky at 100m. It correlated very little with improvements at longer distances. It is an interesting fact that deserves a special study. Different reserves were revealed. That’s why I agree with Craig that setting for Ledecky a sprinter type training will have little success. I expected Gemmell to say something about that.

Yozhik

Craig, what I meant was that girls at 18 are usually more rebellious. And boys at this age are more submissive to the authority of Head Coach. I can be mistaken. Sometimes relationship between Ledecky and Gemmell remind me relationships between elite tennis players and their coaches.

Francene

@Yozhik: Ger was correct, the plan was the same for the prelims and finals in the 1500. And Bruce will tell you that holding back Ledecky is the last thing he wants to do.

Next, I think measuring anything with her 100 is not meaningful to this point as it has not been such a serious event for her, and therefore the data just is not of much value. I suspect that will soon change.

I will agree, however, that she’s about as mature and respectful of her coach as almost any swimmer of any age. She is completely trusting of her coach. I’ll take it a step farther and say that she’s the most humble athlete at the top of the world that I’ve ever witnessed.

Gin Ichi

Yozhik, both Katie and Lotte didn’t swim well at 800 of Barce, that 1500 final drain them out. The Kazan 1500 last 50m, Katie mention later in press, her mind drifted to her grandfather both who are no present anymore, the only thing she can do is “dug deep”, I think that expain her losing control at the last 5m, judging by the huge wave. Also after the 1500 premier, Katie said that her final always faster than the premier, so either way she will go hard at the 1500 final, regardless the 200 semi later.

ThereaLuigi

She is, in other words, the perfect athlete: physically talented, mentally strong, hungry for victory, unafraid of hard work.
I already suspected that 😀
I am very curious to see what she can do in the shorter distances.

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