TOKYO — Nine years after Katie Ledecky, then all of 15 years old, stunned the world in the 800-meter freestyle in London, winning the first Olympic gold of what would become a storied Olympic career, she completed a three-peat here on Saturday.
And then, shortly afterward, she said she’d be back for a fourth Olympics.
Ledecky, now 24, outlasted the field in her signature event for the third Games running. She was challenged by Australian Ariarne Titmus, who beat her in the 200 and 400 earlier this week, and who on Saturday swam the fastest non-Ledecky time ever in the women’s 800 free.
But that time, a 8:13.83, didn’t even crack the all-time top 20. Every single one of those belong to Ledecky.
Nobody had ever three-peated in the women’s 800 at the Olympics. The stat had been in the back of Ledecky’s mind ever since she saw it a few years ago. “Sometimes, that thought gets to you a little,” Ledecky said. “And you think, ‘Oh, I wonder if there's a reason why people have trouble three-peating.' ”
There is, she realized: “It's tough to win one gold. To do it three times in a row in that event is amazing.”
But Ledecky did it, with a time of 8:12.57. Titmus offered her a bigger challenge than anybody ever had. “I could see her the whole way,” Ledecky said. “Tried to keep tabs on her. Tried to just inch my way out a little bit each 50. I knew she was just gonna be lurking there the whole time.”
But Ledecky led at the first wall, and the second, and the rest of the 16. Titmus finished second in 8:13.83. Italian Simona Quadarella finished third (8:18.35). Katie Grimes, a 15-year-old American who’d never even been out of the country before this trip to Tokyo, finished just off the podium in fourth.
The gold medal was Ledecky’s second, and fourth medal overall, of an Olympics from which some outsiders expected more. But Ledecky said she was “really happy” with them. It’s nonetheless a remarkable haul. It brings her to 10 career Olympic medals.
And speaking afterward, Ledecky promised she’d be back for more.
“I'm definitely going through Paris,” she said, referencing the site of the 2024 Olympics. “And maybe beyond as well. We'll see.”
“I also recognize how difficult it is to keep going back,” she said. “So I told myself before that race to just soak it all in. Because you just never know. You never know if you're going to be back on the Olympic pool deck. I remember having that thought even in Rio. Like, I don't know if I'll be in Tokyo. It's never a guarantee.”
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