Posted: Aug 2, 2012 11:18 AM by MTN News
BILLINGS - The United States of America's youngest Olympic athlete, swimming phenom Kathleen "Katie" Ledecky, happens to have quite the connection to this region of the country.
The 15-year-old won the third heat of the 800 meter freestyle with a time of 8:23:24 on Thursday in London, which was good enough to qualify her third overall in the final on Friday night.
Cheering her on in the flesh, along with the fans of Team USA, were 10 of her family members, including her aunt, Anne Nichols of Billings.
"People say congratulations to us and we're feeling a little foolish about that," said Nichols. "We haven't really done anything to deserve it other than being her aunt or her cousin."
But the fame seems to follow family members if Ledecky's experience is common.
"After she qualified 3rd in her race, first of all, we were taking some shots of ourselves and other people started taking pictures of us because we had Ledecky T-shirts on," said Nichols.
Soaking in the benefits of being an Olympian's family is about the only connection they are allowed to have with Ledecky during the games.
The athletes are kept on a rigorous schedule of multiple practices and team meetings.
Also, Ledecky is living in the Olympic Village, which is very difficult to access due to the high level of security to keep athletes safe.
However, the family did have limited contact by complete accident on Thursday following the race, as a family member left the swim center early and caught Ledecky while she was speaking with coaches about her swim.
"She seems just very calm and collected and ready to go again," said Nichols.
But despite the extremely limited contact, the family (who collectively has roots in Williston, North Dakota) isn't worried about Ledecky getting homesick or feeling lonely.
"She has had so much fun here, too," said Nichols. "The whole U.S. team has been very supportive of her being the youngest on the swim team, well she's the youngest on the whole team, but the other swimmers here have been very fun for her and very supportive and very encouraging."
"It's a real tight-knit community. They did some skits together and I'm sure you've all seen the Youtube video they were all in. So, I think it's been a very fun and light atmosphere with the Olympic team."
The video Nichols refers to is the U.S. Olympic Swimming team's parody of "Call Me Maybe", a song which has been parodied many times over the past summer.
Click here to watch the video.
But while the family remains in London, the closest they will likely get to Ledecky will be in the stands of the Olympic swim center on Friday night.
That is, if they can all get tickets.
"We still need four tickets for finals."
Apparently, the Olympics aren't like Williston family gatherings where they just have to go to a pool to watch Katie swim.
Photo from Facebook