Ever since Katie Ledecky graced the scene as a super-talented 15-year-old who claimed gold at the 2012 London Olympics (in the 800m), it seemed almost sure that she could be the one who would catch up with Krisztina Egerszegi. Hungary’s legendary backstroker won a record of five individual Olympic titles among the women. Thinking of Michael Phelps’ astonishing achievements (23 titles, 13 of them came in individual events), it might look a bit surprising that women never surpassed the number 5 limit (not even the East Germans) – though the sport had seen several really outstanding female stars. Egerszegi raced at three Olympics, started her medal haul at the age of 14 (Seoul 1988), almost like Ledecky, grabbed three golds at her second appearance in Barcelona 1992 (similarly to Ledecky) and finished her quest with a gold and a bronze in Atlanta 1996.

Now Ledecky kicked off her campaign with a silver in the 400m free – and today came the golden time in the first-ever contested 1500m free final. And just like the Hungarian great, who had usually won the 200m back with lonely swims (gained several body-lengths on the others by the 150m turn), Ledecky was a cut above the rest in today’s final too.

Coming after a disappointing 200m final where she had finished 5th, she stormed to the lead right from the start and never looked back. For a while, Italy’s Simona Quadarella tried to keep up with her but after 700m the European champion began to fade and soon Germany’s Sarah Koehler took on the challenger’s role. It wasn’t a tight chase though, as Ledecky kept a good 4sec gap throughout the race. 

She brought it home with ease at the end, while fellow American Erica Sullivan passed Koehler and kept her runner-up position till the final touch while the German took the bronze, the first medal by a European female athlete here in Tokyo. Full results

Ledecky looked to get rid of enormous tensions as she erupted in joy and celebrated her triumph as if she had just clinched her first ever gold. In fact it was her fifth and she has another rendezvous with history in the 800m free final where she may become the first female swimmer with 6 titles.

"After the 200m I knew I had to turn the page very quickly and in the warm-down pool I was just thinking of my family. Each stroke I was thinking of my grandparents. They're the toughest four people I know and that's what helped me get through that” Ledecky said after the race. 

"I just really wanted to have a gold medal and to feel that again (crying)” she added. “It’s a true privilege to be at the Olympics during the pandemic. A lot of people are having tough times right now and I’m just so happy with all the support. I truly appreciate the interest in our sport. I just hope people can pour that energy into something else after this.”

“I approach each race with a belief in myself. It’s the attitude I’ve always had that’s why I’ve been so successful” she said. “Anything can happen, (the attitude I go in with is) I can beat the world record in this race.  That’s the kind of pressure and confidence I try to build up. It’s a blessing to have that attitude. I think that’s why I broke so many world records and swam fast. It’s hard to maintain for nine years but, I’ve learned a lot over the years.”