On Wednesday, U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky made Olympic history by winning gold in the first-ever women’s 1,500-meter freestyle event at the Tokyo Aquatic Center in Japan.
Ledecky, 24, who holds the world and Olympic records in the distance, was the favourite to win the race despite failing to win a gold medal in the pool in two attempts during these games, including failing to medal in the 200-meter freestyle about an hour before the long-distance race.
But, when the time came, she swam freely.
From the kick off from the blocks to the final touch of the wall, Ledecky led with confidence, leaving the rest of the swimmers to fight for silver and bronze.
Though she wouldn’t break her Olympic record set days earlier, her 15 minutes 37.34 seconds was 4 seconds faster than the second-place finisher, her U.S. teammate Erica Sullivan, 20.
“I just wanted to get the job done tonight,” Ledecky told a reporter on the sidelines of the pool. “And it was tough after the 200 but I really just moved the page forward and moved on and got my mind right.”
Sullivan stated that her late surge was part of her game plan, but seeing Ledecky alongside her in the final few hundred metres inspired her.
“There was a point when I saw Katie ahead of me and she was the only one, and it really gave me the energy to have someone you look up to for years and seeing them a few metres, or several metres, in front of you and using it to get home,” she explained.
Ledecky won her first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics about an hour after failing to medal in the women’s 200-meter freestyle final.
It was a highly anticipated rematch between the American and Australia’s Ariarne Titmus who has become the swimmer to watch in these Olympics.
Titmus, 20, bested Ledecky on Monday for the gold in the women’s 400-meter freestyle, leaving the American, who was the favorite as she was the reigning champion in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the silver.
Going into the first race on Wednesday, Ledecky had also captured the gold in the 200-meter freestyle in Brazil, and was among the favorites now with Titmus to win the coveted hardware.
After the first turn, Siobhan Bernadette Haughey, 23, led by a hair, followed by China’s Yang Junxuan, 19, and Canada’s Penny Oleksiak, 21, with spectators waiting for Titmus and Ledecky to make their moves.
Titmus surged past Haughey in the final 50 metres to win gold with an Olympic record time of 1 minute 53.50 seconds. The Hong Kong swimmer won silver, and Oleksiak won bronze for her sixth Olympic medal, cementing her place in history as the most decorated summer Olympian from the Great White North. She also shares the title of most decorated Canadian Olympian with speed skater Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen.
“It’s pretty unreal,” she told a reporter from the sidelines of the pool. ” I’m tied, I think, right now with two other women, which is super special, and I’m just excited to keep going.”
She said the title will be motivating going forward.
“To have it, it’s like an extra boost of confidence,” she said.
The American women continued their prowess in the pool on Wednesday, winning two medals in the 200-meter medley final.
Yui Ohashi, 25, of Japan, won gold with a time of 2 minutes 8.52 seconds, but Alex Walsh, 19, finished 0.13 seconds later, followed by Kate Douglass, 19, to win silver and bronze.
The men’s team from the United States, on the other hand, failed to medal in two events.
In the men’s 200-meter butterfly, Hungary’s Kristof Milak, 21, not only won gold by nearly 2.5 seconds over second-place finisher Honda Tomoru, 19, of Japan, but he also broke US swimmer Michael Phelps’ record of 1 minute 52.03 seconds set in Beijing in 2008.
Federico Burdisso, 19, of Italy, won silver.
U.S. swimmer Gunnar Bentz, 25, finished seventh.
In the men’s 4 x 200-meter freestyle, the final medal race in the pool on Day 5, Kieran Smith, 21, who won a bronze in the 400-meter on Sunday, gave the Americans a early but shallow lead over Britain that was evaporated by the half-way point of the race and was never to be regained.
Britain would take gold, the Russian Olympic Committee team silver and Australia bronze.
The Americans finished fourth.