Sport-Clark and Ledecky lead charge of women's sports in Indy

Jun 15, 2024; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Katie Ledecky competes in the women's 400 meter freestyle swim on Saturday, June 15, 2024, during prelims for the Olympic Swimming Trials at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Grace Hollars-USA Today Network

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Anyone looking for proof of the meteoric rise of women's sport need look no further than downtown Indianapolis this weekend where within a five block radius fans turned out in their droves to witness the brilliance of Katie Ledecky and Caitlin Clark.

Seven-times Olympic gold medallist Ledecky qualified for her fourth Games under the lights of Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday in front of an adoring crowd of 20,689, a record number for a swim meet.

Less than 24 hours later, Clark thrilled a sold-out arena of 17,274 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse as the WNBA's Indiana Fever beat the visiting Chicago Sky 91-83.

"It just shows that when given the opportunity, women's sports are amazingly fun to watch and only on the rise," Clark told reporters after scoring 23 points in the hard-fought win.

"People are finally starting to realise how great of a product it is," she said.

"Once they come and watch one time they can't get enough and they continue to come back.

"To be a small part of that is super fun and to play in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,000 people, that's not something you ever take for granted."

Clark was on the receiving end of a hard foul from rival Angel Reese during the contest but said that is just the way it goes when elite athletes battle head-to-head.

"People love to see the emotion and the passion that we play with," she said.

"I think that was something that was maybe not appreciated in women's sports and it should be. That's what makes it fun."

Ledecky said she was having more fun than ever after punching her ticket to the Paris Games with a triumph in the 400 metres freestyle.

The 27-year-old was by far the biggest attraction on the opening night of the U.S. Olympic Trials, which for the first time are being held inside an NFL stadium with the atmosphere of a rock concert.

"I was blown away walking out there and seeing all the fans," Ledecky said.

"I hope it moves our sport forward. I hope there are some young swimmers out there that get excited about today."

Clark's team mate Aliyah Boston said she is proud to be part of a movement that is inspiring the next generation.

"Younger girls now have so many more athletes to look up to and say I want to be like her, I want to be an Olympian just like her," Boston said.

"To be a part of that is amazing. I wouldn't trade it for the world."

(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Indianapolis; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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