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Kevin Schnepf, Published August 11 2012

Schnepf: Swimmer with ND ties helps US women put together stellar performance


This has been one summer in which Katie Ledecky was unable to visit her grandmother in Williston, N.D. She was a bit busy.

The 15-year-old swimmer from Bethesda, Md., was in Omaha last July qualifying for the Olympics. She trained with her Olympic teammates in Nashville, Tenn., and France before heading off to London – where she claimed a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle.

When Ledecky was able to catch her breath after returning home earlier this week, she perhaps realized she was part of one of the most impressive Olympic showings by American women. Let her mother, a Williston native who once lived in Fargo, explain:

“Katie heard about this statistic just the other day, that if they just counted the gold medals the American women won, they would be in third place in the medal count ahead of all those other countries,” said Mary Gen Ledecky.

As of today – the final day of the Olympics – the American women gold-medal count would indeed rank third. Of the United States’ 44 gold medals, the women have accounted for 29 of them. Of the United States’ 102 total medals, the women have accounted for 58 of them.

Sorry Michael Phelps and Lebron James, but the American women have provided us with more to cheer about these last two weeks.

We saw 17-year-old swimmer Missy Franklin, coached by Bismarck native Todd Schmitz, flash that innocent smile of hers with four gold medals and one bronze. We saw 22-year-old swimmer Allison Schmidt win three golds, one silver and one bronze while teammate Rebecca Soni swam to two golds and one silver.

In gymnastics, we saw tiny Gabby Douglas become the first African-American to win an all-around gold medal. We saw Alexandra Raisman become the first American to win gold in the floor exercise. Both were members of the Fab Five that claimed gold in the team all-around competition.

In track and field, we saw sprinters Allyson Felix and Carmelitta Jones combine for six gold medals – including Friday’s world-record 400-meter relay performance.

We saw that Misty May-Treanor plays beach volleyball far better than she dances. Just months after trying to waltz and tango on “Dancing with the Stars,” Misty teamed up with Kerri Walsh Jennings to win their third straight beach volleyball gold medal.

We saw the women’s soccer team avenge its World Cup loss to Japan with a gold-medal victory.

We saw Seimone Augustus, Maya Moore and Lindsay Whalen – members of the WNBA champion Minnesota Lynx – help the women’s basketball team capture their fifth gold medal and 41st straight Olympic win.

Then there was Katie Ledecky, who will begin her sophomore year in high school soon, dominating the 16-lap, 800-meter freestyle in a near world-record time of 8 minutes, 14.63 seconds. Even the television announcers were wondering if Ledecky was going to run out of gas after bolting out to such a huge lead.

Mary Gen, herself an accomplished swimmer at the University of New Mexico, had no doubts.

“I knew Katie would hold her pace, I just didn’t know what the other swimmers had in them,” Mary Gen said.

What Katie has in her are swimming genes that can be traced all the way back to Williston. That’s where Mary Gen’s father, Edward J. Hagan, helped build an indoor pool in Williston back in 1969. Since Hagen’s passing, it has since been named the E.J. Hagan Aquatics Center. It’s the same pool Katie and her brother swim in during their summertime visits.

“Almost every summer, she would go swim in that pool and do laps,” said Peter Nygaard of Fargo, a cousin of Mary Gen.

“Our kids love going to Williston,” said Mary Gen, who from 1978 to 1982 lived in Fargo as the director of medical records at the old St. John’s Hospital. “North Dakota is a big deal for us.”

And now, out of nowhere, Katie Ledecky has become a big deal.

Last Monday morning, she appeared on the “Today Show” before she and her family flew back home. That’s where she was greeted at the airport by two busloads of students from the Catholic girls school she attends, the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. She endured countless interviews from area television stations. She even got to give the weather report on one TV station.

Monday, she’ll be in New York City to make one more appearance on the “Today Show”.

And in a couple of weeks, she will start training again – with sights set for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janerio.

“We’re trying to get back to a normal life, but that might take a little while,” Mary Gen said. “The summer has really gone by fast.”

A summer, thanks in part to Ledecky, of female domination.

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor

Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

Schnepf’s NDSU media blog can be

found at www.areavoices.com