Katie Ledecky made history as the just second woman to win three individual freestyle events at a single Olympic Games on Friday night when she successfully defended her 2012 gold in the 800m freestyle. She raced to eight minutes, 4.79 seconds to lower the world record for the fifth time.
Ledecky joins American Debbie Meyer in the 1968 Mexico City Games, to win three individual freestyle gold medals in a single Olympics. She also ties distance swimming greats Janet Evans and Brooke Bennett as the only U.S. women to win back-to-back 800m freestyle Olympic golds.
"I’m just so happy," Ledecky said after the race. "I’ve just had a lot of fun this week not only in the pool but just with my teammates. The memories mean more than the medals to me here. I’m just so proud of my teammates and what we all have accomplished this last week.”
Previously, Ledecky had set the world record four times in less than three years, lowering it from 8:14.10 to 8:06.68. Wednesday in the preliminary heats she posted 8:12.86 and set a new Olympic record.
Thursday night, Ledecky also became the third American woman to win four gold medals at a single Olympics; Ledecky now stands with Missy Franklin (2012; four golds and a bronze) and Amy Van Dyken (1996, four golds). Kristin Otto of East Germany won six gold medals at the 1988 Seoul Games.
Ledecky’s Rio medal total stands at five, with those four golds (200m, 400m and 800m freestyle, 4x200m freestyle relay) plus a silver in the 4x100m freestyle relay, where she swam the anchor leg. In London, Ledecky was the youngest athlete on the entire U.S. delegation; in Rio, she’s the youngest female swimmer on the team.
"I just wanted to lay it all out there," Ledecky continued. "It’s my last swim here. The Olympics are the pinnacle of our sport and I have to wait another four years to have that moment, and I just wanted to enjoy it all and put my very best swim out there.”
Great Britain’s Jazz Carlin finished in silver with 8:16.17, while Hungary’s Boglarka Kapas rounded out the podium with a time of 8:16.37.
Joining Ledecky in the race was teammate Leah Smith, who took sixth place in 8:20.95. Smith joined Ledecky on the 400m freestyle podium earlier in the week with a bronze medal. Smith earned a gold medal as part of the women’s 4x200m freestyle relay.