A 15-year-old swimmer qualified for the Olympics. Katie Ledecky says she's 'the future' and 'the now'
Katie Grimes, 15, is congratulated by Katie Ledecky after she and Ledecky qualified for the Olympic Games in the 800 meter freestyle in US swimming competitions in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)
When 15-year-old Katie Grimes finished third in the 1,500 meter freestyle in the US Olympic swimming tests on Wednesday, less than a second away from a teenage trip to Tokyo, a slightly more famous Katie came up to her.
"You are the future," said Katie Ledecky, the greatest swimmer of all time, to Grimes, a newcomer with no Wikipedia page.
Two days later, Ledecky looked up at a scoreboard in Omaha, Nebraska. She had just won the 800 on exams. She blinked at the light to find the name of the teammate she would meet at the Olympics. And when she saw it, she beamed.
She looked over at Lane 8 and her beam was even brighter.
Grimes, who finished eighth in the preliminary round after beating her personal best by almost six seconds, shortened another 11 seconds in the final and qualified for second place, 0.15 seconds ahead of Olympic veteran Haley Anderson in third place .
2012: The 15-year-old @katieledecky forms her first Olympic team over 800m.
2021: Katie Ledecky is accompanied by 15-year-old Katie Grimes over 800 m.
Katies in US distance swimming has something special. # SwimTrials21 pic.twitter.com/r14AZf8XdS
- Team USA (@TeamUSA) June 20, 2021
Ledecky swam across the carriageway towards them. An emotional mixture of exhaustion, disbelief, and joy overwhelmed Grimes. Ledecky took her hand and pulled it up into the sky.
And this time, said Ledecky, she offered a new proclamation: "You are the now."
Grimes was the youngest American swimmer to qualify for the Olympics since - you guessed it - Ledecky in 2012. When Ledecky approached an NBC microphone for a post-race interview, Grimes rushed straight to her family. Ledecky told NBC's Michele Tafoya to let Grimes enjoy the moment. Grimes' parents pulled her from the front row and hugged her tightly.
"I'm so proud of you!" called her mother.
So much emotion for 15 year old Katie Grimes after qualifying for the Olympics. @ USASwimming | # SwimTrials21 x #TokyoOlympics
? NBC pic.twitter.com/Yy0aJ7HIj0
- #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) June 20, 2021
With tens of thousands of eyes on her and Ledecky joining the ovation, the 15-year-old found Ledecky, whose welcoming arm slipped around her shoulder for another hug.
"I think Katie Squared will destroy it in Tokyo," said Ledecky.
Grimes grinned. When asked to describe how she felt, she shrugged and turned one left palm toward the ceiling. "I don't even know," she said as innocently as possible, putting the palm of her hand to her forehead. "Simply speechless."
"You are the future. It is the now."
15 year old Katie Grimes will be competing in the #TokyoOlympics with THE Katie Ledecky this summer. # SwimTrials21
? NBC pic.twitter.com/bLQQa1G8Qh
- #TokyoOlympics (@NBCOlympics) June 20, 2021
Then there was a pat on Ledecky's shoulder and the ritual signature of the drum that everyone who qualified this week has scribbled on. Ledecky's name is there. Just like Lilly King, Caeleb Dressel and many Olympic champions. There are other teenagers out there, but none are as young as Grimes.
"It's all just crazy," she said later, still shocked.
Grimes sat next to Ledecky at a press conference after the race and said, "I thought it was cool that we had the same first name. And now we're on the team together."
Grimes was born in 2006, and a year ago, when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out a few months after her 14th birthday, few casual swimmers had heard of the distance freestyler who trains in Nevada. Hell, she went to court this week and was relatively unknown.
But she exploded in 1,500 heats on Tuesday and missed her previous best time at this event by 13 seconds. A day later she improved again and almost stunned Omaha. She did it three nights later.
Her career is in some ways similar to Ledecky, who was two months younger than Grimes currently when she came out of nowhere and qualified for London nine years ago. Ledecky stunned the US and then the world that summer when he won gold in the 800s at the Olympics.
Nine years later, Ledecky is, in some ways, the main reason Grimes' path to fame has to deviate so slightly. Since then, Ledecky has won four other Olympic gold medals and 15 world championships. She is the overwhelming favorite in the 800 and 1500 in Tokyo. Grimes' rapid improvement likely won't be fast enough to catch up with Ledecky next month. (She was 5.74 seconds behind Ledecky on Saturday.)
Maybe one day the torch will be passed on. A beaming smile, a few pictures with the GOAT and a spot in the spotlight next to her are enough for now.
Katie Ledecky and Katie Grimes at a post-qualification ceremony for the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team. (Photo by Al Bello / Getty Images)
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