Picking Between Franklin & Ledecky a Difficult Call

Missy Franklin [Photo: Aniko Kovacs]

As the year enters its final quarter and eventually winds down, there will be regular debates over which athletes had the best seasons. Among women, let’s face it, the decision comes down to a battle between Americans Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky – who would you pick?

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As the year enters its final quarter and eventually winds down, there will be regular debates over which athletes had the best seasons. Among women, let’s face it, the decision comes down to a battle between Americans Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky – who would you pick?



It’s Ledecky for me. At a minimum, she put in the best single-meet performance by a female distance swimmer in history. When was the last time somebody broke the 400/800/1500 textile world records in a week while also throwing in prelims swims and a relay gold?

Counting her 200 free lead-off leg, Ledecky won international LC championship golds in four different distances: 200, 400, 800 and 1500 meters. I don’t think any other modern swimmer can say that. Despite his obvious versatility, Phelps, for example, only won golds by swimming 100, 200 or 400 meters. In 2013 Missy benefited twice from her skills in the 100 back and 200 free through the relays.

Ledecky had to face some of the strongest fields in history in each of her individual events. The 1500 free podium produced three of the top four times ever and the 800 and 400 free podiums easily rank among the best–if not the best–ever. Missy, on the other hand, benefited from Schmitt’s fall from form in the 200 free and Seebohm’s decline in the 100 back.

Also, when was the last time a swimmer could legitimately claim to have produced the top three individual swims of a year? For me, the top swims of 2013 were 1. Ledecky 1500 free, 2. Ledecky 400 free, 3. Ledecky 800 free, with maybe Ruta’s 50 breast prelim WR challenging for that third spot.

Lane Four

As far as QUALITY of the races, Katie Ledecky wins hands down. First she SHOCKS the world with the first sub-4 minute 400 freestyle in textile while actually leading the world record pace for the first 350 meters! She follows with one of the most brilliant and intelligent races I have witnessed in a long long time for the 1500. And then when she didn’t have a whole lot left in her tank, she takes down the 800 meter world record. Oh, yeah, and throw in another gold medal for the 4×200 and she is without a doubt your female swimmer of the year. This could have definitely been a different story if Missy had broken the 100 backstroke world record and the 200 meter free, but she didn’t. Six gold medals is a huge accomplishment but when compared to Katie Ledecky and her performances in BCN, it just wasn’t enough.




No argument.


And as i’ve repeatedly said, Ledecky’s Barcelona is the best performance by a female swimmer since De Bruijn’s Sydney.

Easy. Ledecky.

Clive Rushton

Interesting agreement amongst the posters so far. I also agree: quality counts; Franklin was amazing, Ledecky was astounding.


Has my comment been approved yet?

Craig Lord

Yes Jay.


I amend my comment earlier–Ian Thope won golds in four different distances (100, 200, 400, 800) at 2001 Worlds. I’m still hard-pressed to find a female swimmer who’s done the same, though.

Craig Lord

Tracy Caulkins won 200 fly, 200IM, 400IM, gold in 4×1 free and 4×1 medley in 1978, Berlin. There was no 4×200 relay. She also took silver in the 100 breast. Sensational versatility, scope. The 1500m for women only kicked in in 2001, with stroke 50s, giving freestylers six events, 50 to 1500, as opposed to the for the other stroke specialists. Hannah Stockbauer took gold in the 400, 800 and 1500m for Germany in 2003 (no German relay on the podium that year, though Stockbauer took silver in the relay in 2001, when she also claimed the 800 and 1500 titles and claimed bronze over 400)


I have to concur with other posters, in almost any other year it would be Franklin, but the quality of Ledecky’s individual performances, and the overall level of the races which produced those performances clinch it for me. I always think relays are a bit of an unfair factor when comparing outstanding individuals anyway, as it discriminates unfairly against those who compete for countries which aren’t strong in relays, although in this case it’s a little moot as they both swim for a dominant nation.


It’s ledecky’s performances that made the impact. Her three individual swims were the fastest ever in her events. Franklin is now dominant in the 200 back, but her other two gold relied on swimmers with better times than her not performing.

Not necessarily so.


Franklin’s times were only very marginally better than 2011 in the 100 200 free & 200 back . That is a plateau of sorts. Ledecky is on a sharp incline up .



No question for me. A sub-4 minute 400 in textile and that 1500 swim do it for me. The 800 free and her lead off on the relay are the icing and cherry on top, respectively, of an outstanding cake!

John Lohn

Very interesting, and thanks for the comments. I can’t say I’m shocked, but I did expect a few Franklin backers based on a little more versatility, but the power of Ledecky speaks volumes.


Yes, Missy is more versatile. But she didn’t break any WR, or textile best for that matter.

While Ledecky destroyed 400 textile best, destroyed 1,500 WR, and (finally!!!) broke Evan’s 800 WR (I know I know… Evan’s was no longer WR) in textile.

If only Missy broke 2 WRs or 2 textile bests, then she’d have won it. But this is Ledecky’s hands down. 20 years from Ledecky’s Barcelona will be held in the same regard as Evans’ 88 Seoul or Egerszegi’s 1992 Barcelona.



I had temporary amnesia when I wrote the above.. of course Ledecky already broke Evans’ 800 textile in London.


just playing devil’s advocate for franklin here

Both of them won three individual medals, and of course 3 individual gold medals. so they are evenly matched in that respect

Franklin however had a near-medal performance in the 100 free. If she had won a medal then her case would be EXTREMELY good over ledecky. however we have to look at the 100 as a strong 4th final, which ledecky did not have.

of course ledecky arguably (ok, definitely) had better performances that were beyond the scope of history, while franklin’s were more mundane historically. were they an entire medal better than franklin’s? maybe. better than a final? sure. so individually ledecky is a little better than franklin

however we cannot overlook them because they weren’t franklin’s best times. in the 100 back she was over half a second better than anyone else at the meet. not ledecky good all time but over the course of a 1500 half a second is equal to dominating by 7.5 seconds. Franklin’s 200 back was also the second fastest time ever. It was a championship record and Franklin won the race by over two seconds. should we say franklin was less impressive just because she was even faster last year?

but relays are still legit events. in the 800 FR the US and australia were essentially even, save for franklin. a number of people swam 1:56s, but no one did a 1:55. Franklin was 1:54 low, almost 2 seconds better than anyone else. she essentially won that relay for the US and deserves a lot of credit for that. i would say that counts almost as much as another bronze medal’s worth. swimming the fastest 100 back split in the medley shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Craig Lord

Nice comment, mcgillrocks. Ledecky has the edge because of the impact and records … but I think a measure that is worth taking into account is the defence of world titles beyond a great Olympic Games … to come back and do it all again is one of the contributing factors to greatness in sport (with winning more important than records on the big occasions … if you can win and break a record, even better…). Ledecky may well, of course, back up, too, one day, 2015, 2016… but Franklin is ahead on that curve and that achievement should be recognised (along with coach Todd Schmitz as well).


I think you have to look at just 2013 here, though. Franklin may end up being the Swimmer of the Decade, but Ledecky is the Swimmer of the Year.

Franklin was (maybe) as dominant as Ledecky relative to the competition. The difference is that in all three of Ledecky’s individual events, she absolutely crushed the next-fastest textile swimmers in history.


I would have to go with Ledecky on this one, but there is another swimmer who would have beaten Franklin to the SIX gold punch by 27 years if not for the GDR: Mary T. Meagher. (I’m posting this here because it ties into Franklin winning six golds, and because comments are closed on the Mary T thread)

By 1986, she had become quite the freestyler and had qualified for the 100/200 free, 100/200 fly, and all three relays for the 1986 Madrid World Championships.

In Madrid, she won only the 200 fly, but was third in the 200 free behind two swimmers from the GDR, third in the 100 fly behind two swimmers from the GDR, and she swam on all US relays (4×100 free, 4×100 medley, 4×200 free) which were all second behind the GDR. She was also sixth in the 100 free.

To add to the legend of Mary T, if not for the GDR, SHE would have been the first female to win SIX gold medals (200 free, 100/200 fly, 400 FR, 400 MR, 800 FR) at a World Championship, 27 years prior to Missy Franklin doing so in another Spanish locale. In fact, aside from that 6th place finish at Worlds in the 100 free (behind two GDR swimmers and Tamara Costache of Romania, who was rather questionably muscular and spectacularly fizzled out in Seoul), her only Worlds losses have come to swimmers from the GDR. She was 2nd behind Ines Geissler in the 200 fly in 1982 and the US medley relay lost to the GDR at the same meet.

Not only should Mary T have been the first female to six golds at a World Championship, she would have won more total gold medals at Worlds than any female swimmer until Franklin 27 years later, and like Franklin, in just two appearances. (Unless you start looking at China at which point Jenny Thompson has a case for the total golds mantle) Not even Caulkins (who would have had 7 gold and 2 silvers if not for the GDR) or Shirley Babashoff (who would have 8 golds, 2 silver and a bronze if not for the GDR) would have topped Meagher for total golds at Worlds. Mary T really was something else.


Thanks! Stunning stats which are not well known.
Mary T. is truly a legend… Her face should be the symbol of the word “legendary”

Similarly if Shane Gould had swum for USA and if 4×200 had been an event in Munich, she’d have been the first female swimmer to win 6 golds in an olympics (plus a silver and a bronze). She won 3 golds (200/400 free, 200 IM), a silver (800 free) and a bronze (100 free). USA won the two relays.

Also, another legend like Egerszegi would have also won many more medals (mostly in golds) had she also swum for USA instead of Hungary as she’d have been likely to be on the 400 MR and 800 FR.



If it is true that Franklin won the 800 FR for USA, then it was Romano who won 400 FR for USA. So it’s kinda even in the end.

Don’t take me the wrong way, I think Franklin’s Barcelona was GREAT and her mastery of both back and free is just stunning.

Just to remind people, this year’s choices for female of the year is quite similar to 2007:
In 2007 Melbourne, Laure Manadou won 200 free (WR), 400 free (second fastest time ever), and silver in both 800 free and 100 back (so 2 golds and 2 silver).
Meanwhile, Libby Trickett won 50 free, 100 free, 100 fly, and two relays for a total of 5 golds.
And we know that the swimmingworld’s 2007 female swimmer of the year was Manadou.

Other examples of swimmers of the year give evidence that breaking WRs is given quite some bonus when people are voting for swimmers of the year.

Having said all of these we must also not forget that Franklin finished in 100 free, the most competitive of all events, which should give her extra points, although we can also say that women’s 100/200 back are also not nearly as competitive as the w400 free or even 800 free.


Another observation, this is a great era in women swimming in that we are blessed with many GREAT female swimmers who are on their way to become legends (or in two cases already are): from the new sprint queen Campbell, to the trio of breaststroke divas of Meilutyte, Efimova, Moeller-Pedersen (and Soni when she returns), to fly queens of Vollmer, Sjoestrom and Zige, and the upcoming battles of IMers of Hosszu and Shiwen, and the newly legends: the duo of US teenagers Franklin and Ledecky. All these swimmers are either current or former WR holders or current textile WR holder, and all of them are still within their peak years.

Unfortunately, the situation among the men is really meh this year, which means the silver lining is that it will get better in the coming years. The only dominant male swimmers is Yang in 400-1,500 free and Agnel in 200 free. And even then they had different priorities this year. Lochte is not getting younger. Le Clos may or may not break Phelps’ textile records. Most top breastrokers and backstrokers are maybe past their peak years.
However, things can change so much in the next two years, and there will be change of guards in the 2015 Kazan Worlds, especially if some of the current top young swimmers are fulfilling their potentials: Ryan Murphy, Jack Conger, Kevin Cordes, Kosuke Hagino, Chase Kalisz.

Let’s hope the boys step up or otherwise we’ll have a repeat of Barcelona in 2015 Kazan where the girls completely outshined the boys.


On that note, the discussion for the male swimmer of the year will be quite interesting as there are several equal candidates.



i didn’t really mention the 400 free relay and didn’t say it counted as an incredible performance by franklin, but just as a gold she won by being on the team

if you wanted to poke holes in my argument you’d point out that in the 200 free event franklin was against a weaker field. whereas in all her events ledecky was seconds faster than anyone had ever been before (and collectively she a friis were lightyears ahead) franklin benefitted in the 200 freestyle from the absence on an in-shape schmitt. not only that but franklin was only a few tenths faster than anyone else was there and could have conceivably be beaten if the race was done again. in other terms, franklin’s gold in the 200 free was soft because of a weaker field, and she wasn’t very dominant in it at all

As for men I scored things on the following basis: 1 point per final; 2 pts bronze; 3 pts silver; 5 pts gold

Not surprisingly Sun Yang won
Sun Yang- 15
Lochte- 12
Cielo- 10
Hagino- 10 (4 finals + 2 silver)
le Clos- 10



I agree with you about Sun Yang as the male swimmer of the year. although in my opinion it’s not as slam dunk due to his times much slower than the WRs/textile bests while Lochte’s (quality of) winning times were comparably/relatively faster.

On Missy’s 200 free field, I didn’t mention it because I don’t believe that it was weak, in any case the w200free field was still more competitive than her backstroke events. It is true that it was a little bit weaker than it should have been due to the absence of Schmitt, but it’s not Missy’s fault that Schmitt swam so slow this year and failed to qualify, and also, all the other contenders for a medal were there: Muffat, Pellegrini, Barratt, Palmer, Sjoestrom, Heemskerk. Although it may seem that her winning time looked a bit weak due to it being more than one second slower than Schmitt’s textile record, Missy’s winning time is the fourth fastest ever swum in textile and would have won any worlds/olympics with the exception of 2009 Rome and 2012 London. It’s not even as weak as Lochte’s 200 free win in 2011 Shanghai.

And yes, two swimmers can have the same number wins or medals, but what set apart is the quality/recorded winning time of their swim. That’s why Leisel Jones was voted swimming world’s female swimmer of the year in 2005 (and 2006) even when she won only two individual golds in 2005 Montreal, which is the same number of golds won by Katie Hoff, Kate Ziegler and Kirsty Coventry (Coventry even won two additional silvers in 200/400 IM). If we had used your scoring system (the one you use to score the men’s) for 2005, Coventry’s 2005 Worlds performance would have won her the female swimmer of the year title, but as we know, the voters obviously gave pretty good bonus point for Jones’ WR in 200 breast. For the same reason (although admittedly with a weaker claim), Rebecca Soni was also voted world’s female swimmer of the year in 2010 and 2011 due to the quality of her 100 breast times (textile bests in both 2010 and 2011), although I do think that in 2011 Pellegrini also had equal claim for the title with her wins in 200/400 free and the 4:01.9 she recorded as the textile best.

It may not be the perfect way to evaluate the “performance” or “value” of a swimmer, as some may think that Missy’s overall golds (and versatility) should be given more weight and I have also heard that some would vote for Hosszu as the female swimmer of the year due to her (crazy) consistency in swimming so fast in so many events throughout the year. But it is what it is, swimming is like athletics where world record breaker (or in athletic, anything close to WR) is automatically given additional support to win the swimmer/athlete of the year title.

mary myers

I THINK MISSY because shes awesome and a great swimmer im her biggest fan so her she will win it all:)

mary myers

also im at school so i cant write a big thing missy

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