So who is winning the race, this far into Rio 2016, to be the beaming face on the front of the post-Olympics Wheaties box?
Will it be gymnastics icon Simone Biles? How about the amazing, and inspirational, Simone Manuel? Or how about the young swimmer whose record-smashing times have led some to call her the world's most outstanding athlete -- in or out of a pool -- at this moment in time?
That, of course, would be Katie Ledecky. The problem with this 19-year-old superstar is that she is stunningly normal, in terms of her life story. You can see the Washington Post wrestling with that reality in a feature story after her gold-medal blitz that ran with this headline: "Her goals met, Katie Ledecky speeds toward the next chapter of her life."
Once again, note that this is not a simple sports story. The goal here is to talk about Ledecky as a person, to talk about her future and what makes her tick. What are her values? What will shape her goals in life, now that she is packing away her Olympics experiences and heading to her freshman year at Stanford University?
Yes, GetReligion readers, we are looking for some sign of her strong Catholic faith. Let's look at some of the crucial material near the end:
Somewhere in that hug line was U.S. women’s assistant coach Greg Meehan, who has been handed the keys to the Lamborghini. The Stanford women’s swim coach recruited Ledecky with a pitch touting the school’s storied and talent-loaded swim program, its Ivy-level academic offerings and its opportunities for even a legendary athlete to blend into campus life.
“She’s probably the most decorated athlete ever to walk onto a campus, in terms of the number of world records, the gold medals, the dominance in her events. It’s unprecedented,” Meehan said. “[But] I think Stanford offers the opportunity for Katie to be herself. It’s the reason Chelsea Clinton and Tiger Woods chose Stanford. Because those people can just come and be part of the climate on campus. I think that climate is going to allow her to have a sense of calm.”
But the unspoken truth is that these next four years, leading to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, present a series of challenges and potential pitfalls for Ledecky, of the type that have tripped up some who have navigated them before her. There is reason to think she has both the talent and the grounding to survive it, and even to keep improving, but that is never a given.
So what, precisely, is at the heart of this "grounding" that could give Ledecky the strength, the stability to keep on keeping on? What is unusual about her in this day and age?
Let's search this Post story for the word "Catholic." Nope.
How about "Christian," "God" or "faith"? Nope.
In light of the video at the top of this post, let's try the words "Francis" and "pope." Nope and nope.
OK, let's keep reading.
The past four years went by with Ledecky in the protective bubble of her Bethesda home and her parents, Mary Gen and David. She finished high school at Stone Ridge in May 2015 and took a gap year in order to focus on her training. She still lacks five classes, a written test and a driving test before she can acquire her driver’s license; all this time, her parents have been driving her back and forth to practice.
Now there is something truly strange in that paragraph, in terms of journalism.
As a rule, when reporters mention major institutions -- such as schools -- they start with a complete, full "first reference" to that institution, giving the complete name. On "second reference" this longer name will be shortened to something that is easier to work with.
So what, precisely, is this generic "Stone Ridge" school that Ledecky attended?
Might that be Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart? It takes maybe one or two clicks of a computer mouse to find that out, by the way.
Why would the name of this school be shortened to "Stone Ridge" on the first reference, as if all of the readers of the Washington Post would already know (or would not want to know) the full title? Perhaps this is a way to avoid opening the door into a discussion of Ledecky's faith? Would it be tacky to have to explain that whole "Sacred Heart" thing and talk about the nuns that Ledecky keeps praising as a major force in her life (as in this Crux report)?
Yes, you can easily find plenty of online coverage of Ledecky and her Catholic-school background. That coverage is, of course, in Catholic news media.
But let me ask this question again (see the end of this earlier post on Simone Manuel): If the goal is to write about the heart and soul of remarkable people like Ledecky and her family, why would the Post team go out of its way to avoid mentioning their faith? Why cut short the name of the swimmer's school -- violating normal Associated Press Stylebook principles -- to omit the "Sacred Heart" reference?
Yes, you would expect Catholic publications to focus on the faith angle. But does that mean that it is business as usual for an elite, mainstream publication such as the Post to literally edit the faith element out of a feature story of this kind?
So if you want to know about another factor in the heart-and-soul of Ledecky package, head over to Aleteia.org and read the story under this headline:
In race for another gold, Ledecky relies on grace of God
"The Hail Mary is a beautiful prayer and I find that it calms me ..."
It also seems that there is a bigger Rio 2016 story linked to that school reference, as seen in this Catholic News Agency story: "This Catholic school network produced nine Rio Olympians."
Katie Ledecky, Lia Neal, and Anabelle Smith are some names you might hear on television if you are watching the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro this year.
These Olympians have all won medals in the 2016 games, but they are also united by another common factor: their Catholic education.
Sacred Heart Schools, founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, boasts of a network of over 145 Catholic schools across the globe that have been teaching for over 200 years. These schools are also responsible for producing nine Olympic athletes who are competing at Rio this year.
“Our athletes recognize that their gifts comes from God and are not to be wasted,” the school's communications director Donna Heckler told CNA. “They are taught to take personal responsibility for themselves while being self-disciplined in their efforts.” ...
Their alumnae are from four different countries, and include Katie Ledecky, Lia Neal, Anabelle Smith, KK Clark, Mary Joe Fenandez, Gaby Lopez, Gabi Nance, Erin Rafuse, and Denise Sheldon.
So reporters and editors: Do any of those athletes live or train near your newsroom?