Distance is where Katie Ledecky feels at home. There’s no one better at powering through the long (and tedious) races, and Ledecky reaffirmed that with a decisive win in the 800-m freestyle, the event that started her vaunted Olympic career back in 2012. With her win Saturday in Tokyo, it is the third time Ledecky has taken Olympic gold in the event.
The victory capped off Ledecky’s Tokyo Olympics; it was her last individual event after racing four freestyle distances—the 200-m, 400-m, 800-m and 1,500-m—and her third medal. Days earlier, Ledecky made history by winning the first women’s 1,500-m ever raced at an Olympics—and she did it about an hour after swimming the 200-m freestyle.
In typical Ledecky fashion, she pulled out ahead of the field after the first turn, and never gave up the lead. The NBC swimming commentator Rowdy Gaines, a former Olympic champion, tells TIME that no one is better than Ledecky at finding “fresh water”—meaning she’s far enough ahead of the pack that she’s not wasting energy battling anyone’s wake or splash.
Ledecky swam past growing freestyle rival Ariarne Titmus of Australia, who attempted to pull off what Ledecky had done in Rio and sweep the 200-m, 400-m and 800-m freestyle races. But Titmus fell short in the 800-m, finishing 8:13.83 behind Ledecky’s 8:12.57. Ledecky also held off her young teammate, Katie Grimes, a 15-year-old making her Olympic debut—similar to Ledecky in 2012. Grimes finished fourth, just off the podium.
While Ledecky maintained her lead throughout the race, she was keenly aware of the rivals close on her heels. “I felt like [Titmus] was there the whole time,” Ledecky said after the race. “I tried to keep tabs on her, and tried to inch my way out a little bit with each 50. I knew she was going to be lurking there the whole time, and I knew I had to have a little gap because if we were neck and neck going into the last 100, I know she has that finish.”
While Ledecky wasn’t able to beat her own world record, which she’s done four times since setting her first one in 2013, she still owns the 10 fastest times for the 800-m freestyle. And she’s hoping to add to even faster times in three years — Ledecky confirmed she’s training for the Paris Olympics in 2024.
Read more about the Tokyo Olympics:
- Naomi Osaka: ‘It’s O.K. to Not Be O.K.’
- Motherhood Could Have Cost Olympian Allyson Felix. She Wouldn’t Let It
- Simone Biles’ Olympic Team Final Withdrawal Could Help Athletes Put Their Mental Health First
- ‘Unapologetic and Unafraid.’ Sue Bird Stares Down Olympic Glory in Tokyo and Equity Off the Court
- Meet 6 Heroes Who Helped Battle COVID-19 Before Competing in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics
- Here’s How Many Medals Every Country Has Won at the Tokyo Summer Olympics So Far
- 48 Athletes to Watch at the Tokyo Olympics
- The Olympic Refugee Team Was Created to Offer Hope. Some Athletes Are Running Away From It
- Taylor Swift Is TIME's 2023 Person of the Year
- Meet the Nation Builders
- Why Cell Phone Reception Is Getting Worse
- Column: It's Time to Scrap the Abraham Accords
- Israeli Family Celebrates Release of Hostage Grandmother
- In a New Movie, Beyoncé Finds Freedom
- The Top 100 Photos of 2023
- Want Weekly Recs on What to Watch, Read, and More? Sign Up for Worth Your Time