After sweeping the individual freestyle events at the Rio Olympics in 2016, American Katie Ledecky has been less dominant in the pool at the Tokyo Summer Olympics—but she still managed to make history Wednesday.
In her toughest day of racing, she swam the 200-m freestyle at 10:41 a.m. Tokyo time and then dove back into the pool for the grueling 1500-m at 11:54 a.m. Ledecky couldn’t reach the podium in the 200-m—the first time she’s failed in medal at the Olympics. But she decisively became the first Olympic gold medalist in the 1500m, which debuted in Tokyo for women.
Ledecky was joined on the podium by teammate Erica Sullivan who swam an impressive race, progressively picking up her pace and closing in on a silver finish with every lap. Ledecky won the 1500-m in her typical fashion, pulling out ahead after the first 100-m and swimming in open water for the rest of the race. But while she had more than a two-body length lead over China’s Wang Jianjiahe early in the race, her overall lead shrank as her teammate Erica Sullivan made up time to finish second.
Ledecky is likely to continue to find more competition from the likes of Australian Ariarne Titmus, who is quickly establishing herself as a force in middle distance events, clinching the 200-m freestyle Wednesday. She narrowly beat Ledecky Monday to win the gold in the 400-m freestyle.
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Ledecky, initially known for her dominance in distance events, added the 200m to her repertoire at the Rio Games and has been successful at both the shorter and longer distances. But while she has retained her strength in the longer distance events; she finished fifth in the 200m in Tokyo. After winning the 1500-m, her first individual gold of Tokyo, Ledecky was emotional in the pool after seeing her name at the top of the board, and wiped away tears before placing her goggles back on and exiting the pool.
“I was thinking about the power of the gold medal and what I’ve experienced over the years when I’ve gone to children’s hospitals, and met wounded warriors, and their faces light up when they see the gold medal,” Ledecky said after the race. That means more to me than anything — the ability to put a smile on someone’s face. I really wanted to get the gold medal to have that opportunity again.”
Ledecky is set for shot another at the gold in Tokyo, with the 800-m freestyle event. Finals are Saturday morning Tokyo time.
It’s been a tough Olympics for well-known names in the pool as a new generation of swimmers are gaining ground. Minutes after Ledecky failed to medal, South African Chad le Clos, who had beaten Michael Phelps in the 200m butterfly at the 2012 Olympics, also failed to reach the podium, as new faces Kristof Milak of Hungary, Tomoru Honda of Japan and Federico Burdisso earned gold, silver and bronze.
Powerhouse swimmers like Katinka Hosszu of Hungary couldn’t hold off newcomers like Yui Ohashi from Japan and Alex Walsh and Kate Douglass from the U.S.