Gemmell Takes ASCA Crown For Pioneering Ledecky
Bruce Gemmell, who steered Katie Ledecky to four gold medals, two world records and a world textile best at the 4th FINA World Championships in Barcelona this summer, was named the ASCA Coach of the Year at the organisation’s banquet here in New Orleans this evening. The other nominations for the honour were Todd Schmitz, who coached Missy Franklin to a record six gold medals at the World Championships in Barcelona a year after she claimed double backstroke gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games, and Rick Demont, who coached Matt Grevers to 100m backstroke world crown to add to the Olympic title he won last year.
A tough call for Schmitz: Franklin, the first American to win the 200m free world crown since Sippy Woodhead in 1978, and contributor to the first American women’s team ever to win all three relays at a World Championships (she was in all three quartets), has moved to college and Cal. Schmitz may now never be recognised as coach of the year for Franklin’s outstanding achievements.
Gemmell, meanwhile, has guided Ledecky for the past year at the Nation’s Capital Swim Club (formerly the Curl Burke Swim Club) after coach Yuri Suguiyama moved on after five years of work with the swimmer. Ledecky was named woman of the championships by FINA in Barcelona after setting world records in the 800 and 1500m freestyle for gold and a world textile best in the 400m freestyle that made her the first woman to raced inside 4mins unassisted by a suit.
Thanking Ledecky as he received his prize, Gemmell said that praise was due much deeper than swimmer and coach, the support of the champion’s parents David and Mary Ledecky, the club, the support staff of coaches and others who made the program flow – and Yuri Suguiyama.
Earlier in the day, Gemmell, who coached his son Andrew to the US national team, spoke eloquently about Ledecky’s preparation and believed that her best swim in Barcelona was the first one “when she was at her freshest”: the 400m freestyle.
On a slide rating his charge’s strengths, Gemmell gave Ledecky Bs and Cs on a number of levels, saying “Her pull isn’t good, though to loom at her stroke you wouldn’t think so … she’s an average kicker, too.” After the sniggering had died down, Gemmell [photo: USA Swimming] added: “She’s quite a good athlete but running a 9-minute mile’s not going to happen.” She was also a touch accident prone, he suggested, Ledecky having slipped on the pool deck and hurt her ankle on the way to Barcelona world titles.
Physical tools: B, Gemmell reckoned. He noted her 5ft 11 but that that made her the smallest member of the US 4x200m free relay team and the smallest of the podium placers in the 800 and 1500m alongside Lotte Friis (DEN) and Lauren Boyle (NZL). On strength and athletic ability, the coach rated his charge ‘C’. A bit of a depressing read for all those who look at Ledecky’s efforts of 3:59.82, 8:13.86 and 15:36.53 and may now wonder what grades they would get on Gemmell’s crib sheet.
The coach then listed Ledecky’s strengths, starting with: “She’s fiercely competitive … and she has a very competitive group to train in.” The squad includes 16-year-old boys with whom she does battle on a daily basis. When Ledecky [photo: Patrick Kraemer] cracked 4mins in the 400m in Barcelona, among her first reactions when speaking to her coach was not ‘I got under 4mins’ or ‘I got gold’ but, says Gemmell, “I beat the boys back home…”.
On a list of world-class attributes that Gemmell associated with Ledecky was “tremendous family support … she has wonderfully supportive parents who do everything they can possibly do” including showing at every meet.
In the water, the strength she got from her hips and her dolphin drives off each wall were key components of her success, said her coach. He showed film of the 400m free in full and the last turn of the 1500m free in Barcelona. If Ledecky took there to four decisive dolphin kicks out of each turn, the gain on the field noteworthy, then the last underwater in the 30-lapper was a stunner: five full dolphin kicks and a half before her breakout into full freestyle kick and arms. It was ahead of its time when compared to the speed and skills of those in the lanes either side of her and prompted teammate Ricky Berens to pay her what Gemmell described as the best compliment she got:
“Man – she swims like a dude!”
“Its what makes the difference – she’s destroying the rest,” said Gemmell with a nod to the underwaters. “We started to talk about it as ‘using a weapon’. I told her ‘you’ve got a better wall than anyone else so use it’.” The gains were made in the year since London and accounted for much of her progress on the clock, he suggested.
The addition of dry land strength training had played a big part in that, said Gemmell, who after running through several slides of sets all in s/c yards, echoed the message of Graham Hill yesterday when he noted:
“It’s pretty basic, not rocket science. She’s working hard and consistently.”
And continues to do so. Among her goals is to take down the 800m freestyle world record to where it might have been had the 16-length battle not fallen last on her Barcelona schedule. “She was very tires by then,” said Gemmell, who though she could match her 400m tempo over 800m. “That’s not to say I think she can go 7:59 … but there’s room for improvement …”.
In the coming year, her tasks are to work on gaining strength in what Gemmell described as a relatively weak right hand; do much more kicking; train a little more long course [the vast bulk of hr training is done in a short-course yards pool]; match her 400m tempo in an 800m swim; and improve her ‘appalling starts’. She will also train for the first time at altitude on the way to a season in which the Pan Pacific Championships will be the highlight.
Form more insight into Ledecky’s background, listen to coach Suguiyama on the journey to London 2012:
In Other Awards at the banquet:
American Swimming Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductions:
- Penny Taylor (coach to Tom Jager)
- Don Swartz (coach to Rick DeMont and his brother Ken DeMont, there to introduce and present the award)
- Bob Groseth (among his charges down the years, Scott McCadam, Eric Hansen, Matt Grevers, Mike Alexandrov, Bruno Barbic and Kyle Bubolz)
More on those awards in the days ahead.
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