Katie Ledecky sets world record in 800 freestyle, wins fourth gold medal

Pat Forde
Katie Ledecky poses with her fourth gold medal of the Rio Games. (Reuters)
Katie Ledecky poses with her fourth gold medal of the Rio Games. (Reuters)

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Katie Ledecky completed her Olympic freestyle tour de force Friday night with another annihilation of the field, and another world record in the 800-meter free.

Ledecky, the defending champion in the event that first put her on the international radar, recorded a winning time of 8:04.79, breaking her own record set in January by 1.89 seconds. The outcome of the race was never in doubt, and the Brazilian crowd loudly urged Ledecky on in pursuit of a new standard of greatness in the longest female Olympic swimming event. Ledecky already owned all of the top-10 times in the history of the 800 free, and this adds another layer to her dominance.

The result also gives the 19-year-old from Bethesda, Maryland, four gold medals in the Rio Games and five medals overall, moving her into elite all-time company.

“It felt faster than any event I had ever done before,” Ledecky said, “so I was pretty confident that I would be under that world record time.”

[Related: Michael Phelps’ perfect Rio run comes to an end with silver in 100 butterfly]

Only one woman, Kristin Otto of East Germany, has won more gold medals in a single Olympics (six in 1988). Ledecky ties Amy Van Dyken (1996) and Missy Franklin (2012) for the American record of four.

With her 2012 gold plus three here, Ledecky is tied for second in Olympic history for most individual gold medals in a career with four. The all-time record is five, set by Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary. Given Ledecky’s age, she could break that record with ease in 2020 if she maintains her current dominance.

Ledecky also is the first woman since American Debbie Meyer in 1968 to sweep the 200, 400 and 800 freestyles.

“I just wanted to push myself and see what I could do,” Ledecky said. “It was my last Olympic race here in Rio. The Olympics is the pinnacle of our sport and I have to wait four more years to have that moment again, so I wanted the last one to be special.”

Britain’s Jazz Carlin won the silver in 8:16.17, more than 11 seconds behind Ledecky. Hungary’s Boglarka Kapas took the bronze in 8:16.37. American Leah Smith did not medal, finishing sixth in 8:20.95.