Katie Ledecky met her destiny and became the first female swimmer to claim six individual Olympic gold medals. Her second win here was never in doubt, she came first in the 800m free with a convincing performance. The women’s meet also saw the backstroke double (like the men’s a day ago): Kayleen McKeown won the 200m after the 100m.
Katie Ledecky was simply untouchable between 2012 and 2016 when she won all races she entered and crushed one world record after the other. Then, after Rio, she tasted what it meant losing, first at the 2017 Worlds, then again in Gwangju. That trend did not change in Tokyo as Aussie Ariarne Titmus outperformed her in the 400m, then in the 200m. Still, just like in the ‘glorious years’, it was clear that the longer the distance, the bigger the gap between Ledecky and her chasers. That was large enough before – and it remained that way for this Olympics too.
Add that the 800m free well can be regarded Katie’s pet event: she won this in London 2012 as a 15-years old and here she never lost a race, just like in the 1500m free she already bagged here. Also, she owns the top 10 best times ever…
Titmus was there once more but she was yet to threaten her rival over this distance – unlike in the shorter distances, where she posted outstanding times in the spring, she was 2sec slower than Ledecky in this year. And that difference did not disappear this morning either.
Though Ledecky’s speed is not the same as it had been before Rio (rather 2018 – she posted sub 8:10s regularly in those years), she is still out of reach. Maintaining a 2sec gap for most part of the race, she was a sure bet. Titmus could gain a second back over the last 100m, Ledecky still had it by 1.26sec, though some 8sec off from her WR pace from Rio. Italy’s Simone Quadarella was a distant third but the European champion was happy to earn her first Olympic medal.
As for Ledecky, it was her 6th individual gold, eclipsing 5-time winner Krisztina Egerszegi (HUN) in the all-time ranks.
"It feels great. I'm so happy to be bringing home two golds and two silvers to the States. I had to fight for every metre of that race: Ariarne had a tremendous time and a great swim and I knew she was going to be there the whole way. I'm really proud and happy."
Katie shared some thoughts on her rivalry with Titmus. “She swam so fast at her trials and I was a little off at my trials and it really pushed me to work hard for that period in between trials and here. I wanted to deliver, I wanted to have that great race that we had in the 400m. I wanted to be up there with her and give her a great race. I think we’ve really pushed each other, not just this week but over the past five years in training. Just knowing that we’re both out there working hard and trying to get to this point and get to these races.”
As for this race, she said, it was a really painful experience.
“It hurt. There wasn’t a point in the race where I felt like I was really going down or falling off the pace or anything, but afterwards it really hurt. I think each year you become a different athlete, you’re not the same as you are any year prior. I’m definitely different than I was when I was 15. I didn’t do any dry-land training before age 15, I didn’t train at the level I train at now. It’s kind of crazy to look back all these years, the progression I’ve had, all the different experiences that I’ve had.”
Ariarne Titmus said she face a mountain to climb this time.
“I knew that this would be the toughest race for me. I definitely think I'm a much better 200m/400m swimmer than an 800m swimmer. I feel like the 800m and 1500m is her thing and those are her better events, so I knew that it would be tough for me to be out there with her today. I'm really happy with the silver medal. In the 800m Katie is in a class of her own, so I’m over the moon to be on the podium.”
Women’s 200m back
It was time for a double – Aussie Kayleen McKeown was set to deliver this based on the performances prior to the Olympics and her remarkable swim in the 100m. And she didn’t disappoint while offering a brilliantly executed race plan, travelling with the field for 150m and sailing away over the last leg.
Canada’s Kylie Masse charged ahead once more, like in the 100m, but she couldn’t create a large-enough gap to resist McKeown’s surge in the end. She led by 0.80sec at the halfway turn and by 0.49 at the last turn, but the Aussie’s finish was way too devastating: 31.08 v 32.51. She arrived to the wall with an advantage of 0.74sec – fellow Aussie Emily Seebohm, world champion in Kazan 2015, also staged a huge finish to clinch the bronze, so it was a 1-3 for the Dolphins, their first multiple-medalling in this event.
Indeed, doubling downs of the two backstroke golds are exactly as frequent as among the men: it happened for the 7th time too. USA’s Missy Franklin achieved it in 2012 for the last time – however, this is only the second occasion after 1976 that the same two came first and second respectively in both distances – Masse also was runner-up in the 100m. As a matter of interest, the final featured two swimmers from four nations (AUS, USA, CAN, CHN) each.
“I never actually came into this meet with any expectations” McKeown said. “Because it’s the Olympics, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know who can pull out an awesome swim. So to come away with two medals, both gold, plus the bronze from the relay is absolutely amazing.”
“The Aussies just back one another” she added. “I’ve said it before, it’s an amazing team. We’re not like the Americans who make a big deal of it, but we do definitely tap each other on the back and we’re all really proud of one another. We may not walk away with a medal or a PB, but you know even if you don’t PB, we’ve all got each other’s backs.”