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Swimmer Katie Ledecky on Chinese doping scandal and the Paris Olympics

Katie Ledecky on sports doping and the Paris Olympics
Katie Ledecky on sports doping and the Paris Olympics 07:21

Days off do not exist for Katie Ledecky. "I swim nine to ten times a week, for two hours at a time," she said. By her own estimate, Ledecky swims up to 70,000 meters – roughly 43 miles – each week, as she gears up for the Paris Olympics next month. And if that isn't enough, after hitting the pool, she hits the weights.

"I love the distance races, I love the training," Ledecky said. "Really, if the competitions didn't exist, I think I would still love it."

Katie Ledecky at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla., where she is training for her fourth Olympics.  CBS News

She's won 10 Olympic medals, seven of them gold, and has more individual Olympic gold medals than any woman swimmer in history.

Anthony Nesty, who has coached her since 2021, said, "Katie's probably the best female swimmer ever."

Nesty is a pioneer himself … the first Black man to win an individual Olympic swimming gold medal. Asked to compare Ledecky with other swimmers he's worked with, Nesty replied, "The most important thing about Katie is her passion of swimming. I think she enjoys the grind more than competing, just the day-to-day, the week-to-week, the month-to-month. She gives you 100% all the time."

Ledecky has simply loved being in the water, from the time she first jumped into a pool as a little girl. "I just have so many happy memories of those days, playing Marco Polo with my brother, and all those little games," she said. "I never remember being fearful of the water, or afraid of how cold it would be, or afraid of any aspect of the sport. … I think it was always joy."

Olympian Katie Ledecky. CBS News

That passion runs in the family. Her mother, Mary Gen, and older brother, Michael, swam competitively.

By age 12, Katie Ledecky was outswimming other kids at a local swim club near her home in Bethesda, Maryland. And in 2012 she propelled herself to a spot on Team USA at the London Olympics. She was 15 years old. "Once I made the Olympic team, I – for whatever reason – was able to visualize myself winning the gold medal."

Quijano asked, "How did you have that level of confidence at age 15?"

"I don't know. I think I just really trusted the work that I'd put in. I think I just believed in myself."

The 800-meter freestyle requires athletes to swim the length of the pool 16 times – that's half a mile.

WEB EXTRA: Gold medal swimmer Katie Ledecky on "beating the boys" (YouTube Video)

Gold medal swimmer Katie Ledecky on "beating the boys" by CBS Sunday Morning on YouTube

In Ledecky's new book, "Just Add Water: My Swimming Life," she recalls the crowd that day in London roaring for her competitor, the hometown favorite. But in the final laps, she seized that energy for herself. "I very distinctly remember flipping at the 600 with 200 meters left, and it was, like, waking up," she said. "I said to myself, 'I'm winning. I'm at the Olympics. I'm beating these people next to me. Don't mess this up!'"

London Olympic Games - Day 7
Katie Ledecky winning the Women's 800 meter freestyle final, at the London 2012 Olympics. Julien Behal/PA Images via Getty Images

In her international debut, Ledecky had won her first Olympic gold medal, and gained global recognition … all while being the youngest member of Team USA. As President Barack Obama noted at a White House ceremony, "Katie Ledecky may have been swimming in London, but she still had to finish the summer reading assignments for her high school English class."

Simon & Schuster

Ledecky continued to dominate swim competitions worldwide. She went on to win six more Olympic gold medals at the 2016 Rio Games and the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Last month, those accomplishments brought Ledecky back to the White House, this time as the first swimmer ever to receive the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But recent revelations suggest Ledecky might have earned one more gold medal.

In April, The New York Times reported 23 Chinese swimmers, including two who helped defeat Ledecky and her teammates in a relay race, had tested positive for a banned substance just months before the Tokyo Games.

Chinese officials say the swimmers inadvertently ate contaminated food. The World Anti-Doping Agency declined to take action.

Ledecky said, "In this instance, it doesn't seem like everything was followed to a T. So, I'd like to see some accountability here. I'd like to see some answers as to why this happened the way it did. And I'd really like to see that steps are taken for the future, so that we can regain some confidence in the global system."

Quijano asked, "And do you think the results of 2021 need to be rescinded, reexamined? What would you like to see happen there?"

"I mean, I think the whole case has to be reexamined independently and thoroughly, and all the information needs to be out there," Ledecky said.

In a statement to "CBS News Sunday Morning," the World Anti-Doping Agency said it found "…compelling scientific evidence that pointed exclusively to the fact that this was a case of no-fault contamination and not doping. WADA followed every process and line of inquiry when reviewing this file."

Wada also said a new review is underway, but there's unlikely to be a resolution before the Paris Olympics, less than eight weeks away. 

WEB EXTRA: Olympian Katie Ledecky on the Chinese doping investigation

Olympian Katie Ledecky on the Chinese doping investigation 03:00

"It's hard going into Paris knowing that we're gonna be racing some of these athletes," Ledecky said. "And I think our faith in some of the systems is at an all-time low. You try not to think too much about when you're actually racing. And the best thing to do is to just go out there and try to win. And it's tough when you have in the back of your head that it's not necessarily an even playing field."

Ledecky is 27 years old now. And even as she focuses on Paris, she's already looking ahead to 2028, when the Olympics are set to take place in Los Angeles.

She said, "I think 2028 would be an incredible cap on my career. I don't even wanna say that at this point because, who knows? I could get to 2028 and say, 'No, I don't wanna be done yet. I wanna keep going!'"

As you're watching this, Katie Ledecky is scheduled to be back in the pool, just as she was yesterday, and will be again tomorrow, savoring every bit of the grind.

Katie Ledecky, in her element. CBS News

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Story produced by Alan Golds. Editor: Lauren Barnello. 

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