San Francisco Chronicle
7 gold medals for Ledecky
She becomes only female swimmer to capture 6 individual events.
TOKYO — Katie Ledecky stood behind the blocks and looked around. The pool, the flags, her teammates in the stands. The pool at the Tokyo Aquatics Center, one last time.
“I told myself to just soak it all in,” she said after winning gold in the 800meter freestyle for the third straight Olympics. “You never know when you’re going to be back on the Olympic pool deck. It’s never a guarantee.”
If we’ve learned anything in these Tokyo Games, it is that nothing is guaranteed. Not that the 2020 Olympics will happen in 2020. Not that the best tennis players will win gold. Not that the biggest star of the Olympics will compete.
So even though Ledecky, 24, is looking toward Paris 2024 — and that short “quad” is awfully appealing after this fiveyear slog — she knows that life could change her plans.
Still, some things seem to remain certainties. And one of them is Kathleen Genevieve Ledecky in a freestyle distance race.
In her final race in Tokyo, Ledecky became the first person to “threepeat” in the 800 free. She won her sixth individual gold, a record for a female swimmer, and her seventh overall gold. The race ended a grueling fivefinal week for the former Stanford swimmer, made more difficult by the “flipped” schedule with finals in the morning.
“It was hard,” Ledecky said. “It’s been a long week; it’s good to be at the end of it.”
Ledecky led the entire race. Her rival, Australia’s Ariarne Titmus — who opened the Games by beating Ledecky in the 400 free — finished 1.26 seconds behind her.
“This is my first Olympics and its really overwhelming,” said Titmus. “To look at Katie and see what she’s achieved at three — I couldn’t dream of that.”
Ledecky said the rivalry with Titmus has fueled her, pushing her to work even harder over the past few years. Though gold is the standard Ledecky has set, she also has three silvers, and the one she won in the 200 free relay most have been her most impressive feat of the week.
Anchoring the race the day after she failed to medal in the individual 200 — the first time she had missed the podium in her Olympic career — Ledecky swam as though she had heard the chatter around the pool that her speed in shorter events was gone. She swam the fastest split in the pool and closed so fast that she nearly caught China. All three teams on the podium broke the existing world record.
Ledecky made it clear: Don’t count her out.
This was Ledecky’s final race in Tokyo but she doesn’t plan on it being her final Olympic race. She’s hoping for Paris, “and maybe beyond,” since the Olympics then are in Los Angeles.
“I’m still young — 24 is not that old,” she said. “I still love this sport. I love it more every year. But I just want to take it one quad at a time.”
She continues to own the 800. Titmus was pushing her and Ledecky said she was aware of the Australian in lane seven through the entire race.
“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 neckandneck in the last 100 she has that finish,” Ledecky said. “I’m able to swim the 800 a number of different ways, so I just trusted my training.”
Finishing fourth was 15yearold Katie Grimes of Las Vegas. After the race, the two Katies did a secret handshake they had made up and told each “I love you.”
“Katie Grimes, what a kid!” Ledecky said. “She’s so fun.”
Swimming alongside a version of her younger self was a fullcircle moment. Ledecky was once that 15yearold kid in London, bursting on the scene and winning her first gold in the 800. She said that first medal still hasn’t really sunk in.
Nine years and nine medals later, she still finds it hard to fathom all she has accomplished.
“Coming off London, I was super motivated to prove I was not a onehit wonder,” Ledecky said. “Coming off Rio, I was headed to Stanford and only took a quick break.
“I think I’m just going to let this sit a little bit. And enjoy it. Really soak it in.”