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NEWS FEATURE Ledecky confident and on the verge of Olympic greatness at Rio 2016 By Derek Wilson, dpa

Europe
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Golden girl Katie Ledecky has a string of world titles and records to her name. Now she is seeking to increase her Olympic haul before she is out of her teens.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - American prodigy Katie Ledecky enters the 2016 Olympics a little older and a little wiser than when she won 800-metres freestyle gold in 2012 - and she also carries the weight of being the most dominant swimmer in the world.

"A lot has happened over the last four years, I‘ve had a lot of fun competing at international meets and gaining more experience, and I do feel a lot more comfortable in this environment," Ledecky told reporters in Rio de Janeiro.

"I know what to expect with the Olympics and everything that comes with it. I think that bodes well for my confidence and my comfort on the pool deck in Rio."

Those words are likely to send her rivals scurrying for refuge in a darkened room.

Ledecky winning the 800m as a 15-year-old at the London Games was a surprise, but there have always been occasional upsets in sports, and in this regard swimming is no exception.

But since then Ledecky has, step by step, elevated herself to a level where her opponents are, if not competing in a different sport, often effectively competing in their own races - for second place.

"Until you truly are an amazing aerobic machine that Katie is, an absolute spectacle, I don‘t think anybody can understand it," team-mate and Olympic 100m freestyle champion Nathan Adrian said, while another US team member Ryan Lochte said Ledecky "swims like a guy."

At age 19, Ledecky, has multiple world titles to her name and at the 2015 worlds achieved the seemingly impossible by winning the freestyle at 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m. In the last of those races she triumphed by a mind-boggling 15 seconds.

Going from 800m champion to 1,500m champion is a natural leap but, with the latter race not an Olympic event, Ledecky was forced to move to shorter distances to expand her range.

"It was something which just came naturally," she said. "I swam my first event [at the Olympics in 2012] and pretty quickly wanted to get back to work for the worlds in Barcelona (2013).

"I wanted to swim more than just the 800 free so we started working on some speed, getting better at the 400 and 200 over that year, and as I started to drop time, I kind of realised I can be a player in all those events on the international stage.

"Each year I‘ve just tried to set myself up for this year."

Anything other than clear Ledecky victories in the 400m and 800m frees would be a massive shock, but in the 200m she faces stiff competition from Sweden‘s Sarah Sjostrom - despite being a butterfly specialist - and Italy‘s Federica Pellegrini.

Until Ledecky came along, Pellegrini was the world record holder in the 400m free but did her time using a now-banned polyurethane swimsuit. Even without that advantage, Ledecky smashed the four-minute barrier and subsequently lowered the record to 3 minutes 58.37 seconds, one of 11 world records she has set.

If Ledecky does win three individual golds from 200m through 800m, she will become the first woman to do so since Debbie Meyers in 1968. And there could be even more success to come with the relay medals thrown in, even if their colour is not certain in the face of strong opposition from Australian.

"I don‘t know," she answered when asked what made her such a great swimmer. "I just work hard and try my best every time I step up on those blocks.

"When I was little I never dreamed of going to the Olympics, I never had that as a goal. But as I got closer to qualifying for Olympic trials, then the Olympics, it started to become a reality and again, once I did, I wanted to do my very best at that level.

"Four years ago, when I was visualising my race at (the Olympic) finals, I never visualised anything but winning gold.

"I think having those dreams, once I get to that level, I think I‘m able to set the goals for myself and go out and achieve them," she said.

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