In her illustrious swimming career, Katie Ledecky has won five Olympic gold medals and 15 world championship titles, the most of any woman in history. Recently, she has spent months of her life preparing for another go at Olympic glory in Tokyo this summer.

But then she found herself trying to swim laps over the past week and a half in the strangest of places: two different backyard pools in the San Francisco Bay area. One was not bad, 25 yards long. The other was not good. It was smaller.

A couple of strokes and she’d reach the wall. Then back again she’d go.

“I wouldn’t really even call it training, just swimming around in people’s private backyard pools,” Ledecky said during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. “It was hard to focus and do anything substantial. I was doing the best I could, trying to do a lot of training on land, and otherwise stay in my apartment, social distancing and really not doing anything.”

As her ability to prepare for the Olympics was severely altered by closures related to the coronavirus pandemic, Ledecky knew this could not continue. She couldn’t swim at all for “a number of days,” she said. With four months to go to the Olympics, this was no way to train.

Katie Ledecky, unable to train, says Olympic delay is 'the right call'

She was hardly alone. As Olympic coaches and elite swimmers around the country compared notes, then gathered on conference calls last week, USA Swimming urged the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee to push the International Olympic Committee to postpone the Games, which is exactly what happened Tuesday. The 2020 Olympics will now be held sometime in 2021.

“I think USA Swimming deserves some credit for making a little bit of a push and really listening to their athletes and their coaches and hearing about the training situations we were in,” she said. “We didn’t want to risk our health and the health of those around us, and it was the same situation pretty much around the world, some even worse. Postponing the Olympics was the right call today by all means and I’m glad they made it.”

Details of the past week and a half have blurred for Ledecky, who in normal times takes classes and trains at Stanford. The pool there closed March 13, she said. She celebrated her 23rd birthday on March 17, driving to the pool at the University of California-Berkeley before that no longer was an option.

“I think we were able to swim that day,” she said of her birthday. “It changed so much over time. While the Olympics were still on and they were telling us to do our best, we all felt like we had to scramble and do our best to keep training and see what pools were open and what we could squeeze in.

“It changed literally every day. Obviously, we were paying attention to what was happening around the country and we didn’t want to do things we were not supposed to be doing. There were much bigger things happening than swimming.”

But swimming is what Ledecky does so well, and as long as the IOC said the Olympics were on, she and her training partner and fellow Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel had to try to keep at it.

“It was kind of overwhelming,” Ledecky said. “We were trying to figure out the next steps for training while, given the circumstances, we’re trying to stay healthy and do the right things in terms of not doing things. But one or two days out of the water goes pretty far in setting you back, and looking ahead at the long haul, we weren’t going to be able to get any real training in.”

She and Manuel and their coach Greg Meehan considered trying to travel elsewhere to train but decided against it. Even the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, another option for them, shut down.

“We felt like we didn’t want to travel to put other people at risk,” she said. “Being aware of the situation and hopeful that a decision would be made swiftly, I think we made the right call. Even if we had wanted to drive somewhere, we would have had to stop at rest stops and you don’t know how many germs you might pick up there. I could have flown home (to suburban Washington, D.C.), but I didn’t want to risk getting my parents sick if I picked something up along the way.”

With the announcement of the postponement, that intense pressure has now lifted. Ledecky will still be expected to be a strong gold-medal favorite whenever the Tokyo Games are held next year, but she’s going to hit the reset button for now.

“We don’t even know when the Olympics are yet,” she said, “but once we know that, I’ll be able to plot out the next 13-14 months, come up with the new training plan, see what the schedule is. I feel good about how my training has gone this year. I’m a firm believer that you don’t lose the hard work you’ve put in and you can only build off of it so by no means has this year gone to waste.”

During these extraordinary times, she’s happy to step back for a bit.

“Now's the time to be cheering for the people on the front lines, doctors, nurses, researchers, people like Dr. (Anthony) Fauci, who are really putting in the work to make sporting events in the future possible and of course many more things as well, keeping all of us healthy and really trying to flatten this curve and make an impact. 

"There are a lot bigger things at stake here and we’re all very capable of letting these people do the work that’s necessary right now and then we can do our work again when it’s time.”