Katie Ledecky began her reign when she won gold in the 800 meters freestyle at the London Games in 2012. She reaffirmed herself as a total swimmer in Rio 2016, and this Saturday morning in Tokyo she defended the sanctum of her record against the inexorable advance of a future that sounds like a storm: Titmus, Titmus, Titmus.
The name must have echoed in the champion’s mind as she accelerated at an unsustainable pace in her attempt to open a gap in the first 700 meters. It passed in 7 minutes 11.08 seconds. With the last 100 remaining, only Ariarne Titmus chased her, with a 7m 13.51s pass. If the Australian had increased the frequency of her kick in that instant, as she did in the 200 and 400 races, Ledecky would not have held out. But since Titmus only turned on the turbine in the last 50, instead of regaining the three seconds that separated it from its rival, the blow stayed at one and a half. Ledecky’s margin was enough to hold the load.
Far from the world record of 8m 04.79s that she set in Rio swimming almost alone, the American completed the 800 in 8m 12.57s followed by Titmus in 8m 13.83s. Never since 2012 has his triumph been substantiated with so little margin. In London he obtained 4.13 seconds ahead of Mireia Belmonte, in Rio 11.38s over Jazz Carlin, and in Tokyo just 1.26s over his nemesis.
So haggard the NBC reporter must have seen her coming out of the water on her farewell to the competition in Tokyo that he asked her if she wasn’t thinking of retiring. “Oh no, this was not my last career,” replied Ledecky, who at 24 has already graduated in psychology and political science and is now dedicated to professional swimming thanks to multiple sponsorships. “At least I’ll keep swimming until the 2024 Games, maybe until 2028. We’ll see!”
Ledecky has 10 Olympic medals, eight gold. The last one earned him the third consecutive title in 800 meters freestyle. Only three swimmers in more than a century of Games managed to retain three golds. Hungarian Krisztina Egerszegi dominated the 200 backstroke in 1988, 1992 and 1996; and the Australian Dawn Fraser was invincible in the free 100 of the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Games.
The end of the participation of the best long distance runner of all time coincided with the preparations for the last show from the penultimate evening of finals at the Tokyo Aquatic Center: another US catastrophe in a relay event.
“Fifth place is unacceptable for the United States,” Dressel protested, when it was all over. “This hurts”.
The most splendid swimmer of the Games ended with a blur a lavish day that began by beating the world record of 100 butterflies, continued a few minutes later to qualify in first place for the final of 50 free, and culminated in saving the ignominy of last place to the United States mixed relay team.
An accident opened the waterway in the hull of the ship. When 17-year-old Lydia Jacoby went for a swim at the second post, her pink goggles shifted. The glasses embedded in her mouth, making it difficult for her to breathe. Since any strange gesture would have disqualified her, she neither stopped to put on her glasses nor did she square the turn, which she did blindly. He saved his 100 meters with an abysmal time of 1m 5.09s.
“A little bit panicked”
“It had never happened to me before,” he lamented. “I panicked a little bit.”
Dressel’s post, the last one, was a desperate race against the waves of the seven teams ahead. The Florida giant swam his 100 meters in 46.99s, faster than anyone in the contest, but it only served to bring his team to fifth place. The gold corresponded to Great Britain. Led by Adam Peaty’s outburst, the Islands team set the world record in 3m 37.58s. China was silver, Australia bronze and Italy was fourth in the farewell of the great Federica Pellegrini.
The mixed relay, in which each team chooses two women and two men in the order they see fit, was inaugurated at the 2017 World Cups. In Tokyo, this difficult-to-manage event deepened the United States’ swimming crisis . If at the Rio Games the US team exhibited some cracks, they did not prevent it from closing a balance of four golds in six relay finals, without ever getting off the podium. In Japan, when they have played five relay finals, the Americans have barely achieved a medal in the men’s 4×100 and have been left out of two podiums. Something completely unprecedented, in full swell of China, which won the women’s 4×200, and the United Kingdom, which won the mixed 4×100 and the men’s 4×200.
“We have all done what we could,” concluded Dressel. “Today the best team won.”
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.