TOKYO – She won her first gold medal, saw her first banner raised a twinkling star, and heard her first anthem nine years ago in London. At 15 that summer, Katie Ledecky was the youngest member of the 530-member U.S. team, and when she destroyed the court in the 800m freestyle, she had just missed the world record, breaking Janet Evans’ American record. 23 years old, everyone wondered: who was that girl?
And so it was the standard set. Ledecky collected four more gold medals in Rio five years ago and earned 15 more from four world championships every two years, often with a world record to preserve up with those medals. Understandable was the expectation here, for Ledecky to triumph four freestyle races and anchor the 4×200 relay to triumph. So when Australia’s Ariarn Titmus dropped her in the 400 Freestyle on Monday, the reaction around the world was shocking.
Ledecky has never lost a singles event at the Games, and until she finished fifth behind Titmus in the 200 Freestyle on Wednesday, she was never out of the podium. So when Lydecky got back and led a 1-2 sweep of 1500 freestyle with Erica Sullivan, the chlorinated world got back on its axis even if time (15:37.34) was infantry by her standards.
Ledecky admitted, “Times may not be my best, but I’m really happy to have a gold medal around my neck now.”
There could be two more. Ledecky will be favored to triumph the 800 for free for an unprecedented third time and the Americans will fight their usual battle with the Australians in the relay. At the very fewest, Ledecky should come out of these games with two gold and one silver, which would bring her Olympus career medal collection to 10.
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“I considerate of laugh when I see things like ‘settling on silver’ because there are a lot of athletes who’ve won silver or bronze are really happy with that and they deserve a lot of praise,” Ledecky said. “Just because I’ve won golds all the time doesn’t unkind a silver doesn’t unkind anything to me.”
If the public expects gold and a global brand every time, it may be because they do, too.
“I forever strive to be my best and be better than I have ever been, and it won’t be simple when your times are world records in some event,” said Ledecky, who holds the 400, 800 and 1500 marks. freedom. “You can’t preserve wasting time on every swim.”
However, Ledecky, who has 14 world records on her resume, forever assumes that she can donate up her times and will quit doing so.
“That is why I have been so thriving over the years, because I treat every race with the attitude that anything can happen, and I can burst a world record in that race in February at a local meet in the Bay Area without anyone watching,” she said. I can go up and throw down. That’s the considerate of pressure I put on myself… It’s a real blessing and a curse that I have this attitude.”
Ledecky takes on massive workloads at a global meet. She competes on six of the nine meet days, ten races in all races including the qualifiers, semi-finals and finals in the morning and evening sessions. Wednesday was brutal – 200 free players with 1,500 following just 73 minutes.
Ledecky noted: “I would point out that men do not have this weakness.”
Titmus, who came from third to beat Hong Kong’s Siobhan Houji in the 200m, thought Ledecky would be by her side in the adjacent lane but never got over fifth.
“I forever thought Katie would be there,” Titmus said. “I guess it wasn’t in the end. But you know, she had to race the 1500 as well.”
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As soon as she got into the pool, she put the 200’s behind her and focused on the metric mile, a staple of the world meet but on the Olympic program for the first time.
“I have swam in this race a few times and have confidence in how to swim,” said Ledecky, who has more than a dozen records over a distance. “I can make it firm no matter what.”
Ledecky drove wire to wire for all 30 laps and was elated when she saw Sullivan come four seconds behind her.
“It’s a legend and will forever be a legend,” Sullivan said. “The fact that I’m swimming the alike generation as hers, it’s lovely cool.”
Ledecky has set the distance standard for this generation for nearly a decade now and understands why it’s surprising to see anyone else on the podium.
“I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me or feel that silver or any other medal besides gold is disappointing,” she said. “I would much prefer that people concern about people who are really struggling in life. It’s an honor to be at the Olympics, not to mention the Olympics in the middle of a pandemic. A lot of people around the world are going through a lot of firm things. I’m just lucky to be here.”