At age 15, Katie Ledecky was the youngest athlete on the 2012 U.S. Olympic Swimming Team. The high school sophomore won an Olympic gold medal in her first international competition and broke the previous American record by finishing the 800-meter freestyle in 8 minutes 14.63 seconds, just missing the world record. In 2016, she shattered her own record in that event and brought home five medals total: four gold and one silver.
Unsurprisingly, Ledecky was expected to dominate the 2020 Olympics. However, she missed out on gold in the 400-meter freestyle by less than seven-tenths of a second. In the 200-meter freestyle final, she fell to fifth place, making it the first time ever that she didn’t win a medal.
But during the preliminary heat on Monday, she set a new Olympic record with 15:35.35 in the event’s Summer Games debut. Then she was back on top, winning the first-ever women’s 1,500-meter freestyle final.
The 24-year-old swimmer finished first in the event with a time of 15:37.34 on Wednesday morning at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Ledecky was 4.07 seconds ahead of her teammate Erica Sullivan, who won silver with 15:41.41.
Ledecky shared her excitement and appreciation on Twitter along with photos.
“(Gold medal and silver medal) for @TeamUSA in the first-ever @Olympics Women’s 1500m free,” she tweeted. “Thanks everyone for the support over the past few (busy) days! A few more ahead! Enjoying the racing with @USASwimming and proud of my teammates, let’s keep it going!”
— Katie Ledecky (@katieledecky) July 28, 2021
She spoke with emotion about her powerful turnaround.
“After the 200, I knew I had to turn the page very quickly. In the warm-down pool I was thinking of my family,”she told the Associated Press. “Kind of 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.”
The 1500-meter race requires swimming 30 pool lengths, and it’s new to the Olympics as of Tokyo 2020. Ledecky has been dominant in the event in world championships, but her quest for the gold took longer than planned this trip.
“I think people maybe feel bad for me that I’m not winning everything and whatever,” she said, “but I want people to be more concerned about other things going on in the world, people that are truly suffering. I’m just proud to bring home a gold medal to Team USA.”