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Why we should frame Katie Ledecky’s dominance in terms of women’s sports — not men’s

Why we should frame Katie Ledecky\'s dominance in terms of women\'s sports -- not men\'s U.S. Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky talks to Hannah Storm about how she got started swimming, how she set goals for herself when she was young and how the swimmer’s mindset is to improve on your personal best.

Katie Ledecky’s Olympic Games are off to a flying start: The 19-year-old swimmer took gold in her first individual event Sunday night. And she didn’t just win — she blew her competition out of the water, finishing with a nearly 5-second lead and breaking her own world record in the 400-meter freestyle.

By holding world records in the 400, 800 and 1500 freestyle, Ledecky’s dominance continues to be astounding. During Sunday night’s broadcast, as Ledecky quickly pulled ahead of the pack, NBC’s Rowdy Gaines proclaimed: “A lot of people say she swims like a man. She doesn’t swim like a man — she swims like Katie Ledecky.”

Indeed, the tendency to compare women athletes to men seems to arise no matter what, in an attempt to contextualize female athletic achievement in the male terms we understand as default.

“This girl is doing respectable times for guys,” 11-time Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte told USA Today. Olympic silver medalist Connor Jaeger took the comparison beyond her impressive times. “Her stroke is like a man’s stroke,” he told the Washington Post. “I mean that in a positive way. She swims like a man.”

Lochte, Jaeger and most people comparing Ledecky to male swimmers are trying to be nothing but praiseworthy. And the idea that she has “a man’s stroke” isn’t entirely hyperbolic. As espnW’s Philip Hersh explains, her coach tweaked her mechanics to employ techniques rarely used by female swimmers.[…]

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