Ledecky’s victory in the 1500m freestyle on Wednesday came just over an hour after she finished fifth in the 200m – her lowest ever ranking in an Olympic final. His mind had searched for positive thoughts between the two races, turning first to his grandparents and then to the big pictures of what it would mean to win a sixth Olympic gold of his career.
“I’ve been to children’s hospitals and met wounded warriors, and their faces light up when they see the gold medal,” Ledecky told reporters after his victory in the 1,500m while fighting for hold back tears.
“It means more to me than anything, the ability to put a smile on someone’s face… So many people in the world are going through a lot of difficult things; I’m just lucky to be here.”
While many expected Ledecky to face fierce competition from Australia’s Ariarne Titmus in the 200m freestyle on Wednesday – one of her four gold medal events in Rio five years ago – few would have predicted that ‘she would end up so far in the peloton.
But the 1500m offered a more familiar sight, with the 24-year-old quickly gaining a lead she maintained over the 30 laps.
American teammate Erica Sullivan took silver, just over four seconds behind Ledecky’s 15: 37.34, while Germany’s Sarah Kohler took bronze.
A “hard enough” state of mind
Given her meteoric form this year, coupled with her harvest of gold medals in Rio, the American has entered these Games with high expectations – mostly, she admits, of herself.
“I always strive to be my best and to be better than I’ve ever been,” said Ledecky, who holds the world records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle.
“It’s not easy when your times are the world record in some events. You can’t keep wasting time with every swim, (but) that’s the kind of attitude I have when I swim. approaching every race… And it’s pretty damn difficult. “
This attitude, she added, can be both a blessing and a curse – motivating her to continue to pursue her own standards, while forcing her to constantly train and compete with her own high expectations.
“I gained perspective over the years,” she said. “I’ve really learned a lot over the years. The times (in Tokyo) might not be my best times, but I’m still really, really happy to have a gold medal around my neck in this moment.”
While fans were kept away from Tokyo venues amid the pandemic – often creating an atmosphere of eerie calm – athletes filled the stands on a poolside for Wednesday’s races, cheering on their teammates and waving banners.
Chants of “USA” reverberated around the venue as Ledecky raced down the pool on her final length of the 1,500m – the first time the distance had been contested as a women’s Olympic event – to finish 17 seconds off her record. of the world of 2018.
Titmus rules the pool
An hour before Ledecky toasted his first gold of the Games, his rival Titmus was celebrating a second.
The Australian, who beat Ledecky in the 400m freestyle on Monday, also won the 200m freestyle final on Wednesday, with Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey in second and Canada’s Penny Olesiak in third.
Stepping off the podium after collecting his gold medal, Titmus burst into tears as he hugged coach Dean Boxall by the pool.
“I’m pretty good at containing my emotions… (but) now that I don’t have to swim tonight, I think I let it slip out a bit,” she told reporters. “Seeing him (Boxall) emotional makes me emotional.”
As for the race itself, Titmus admitted she was “a little surprised” that Ledecky was not with her in the lead in the final length. The duo are set to face each other again in the 800m freestyle final on Wednesday.
“I feel great,” Titmus said. “I used the rest as much as possible, so this afternoon I’m just going to try and relax.”
Tom Dean’s battle against the Covid
In Wednesday’s other swim results, Yui Osashi extended Japan’s astonishing gold medal harvest at the Games with a victory in the women’s 200m individual medley, while Hungary’s Kristof Milak took gold in the Men’s 200m butterfly.
The session ended with Great Britain winning the 4x200m freestyle relay final ahead of the Russian Olympic Committee and Australia.
The British quartet of Tom Dean, James Guy, Matthew Richards and Duncan Scott set a new European record with a time of 6: 58.58 – 0.03 seconds less than the world record.
The victory was particularly poignant for Dean, who twice contracted Covid-19 during the pandemic.
“The second time much worse than the first, I was pretty sick for about 10 days and on my own for the entire period of isolation,” he told reporters.
“It’s a slow comeback due to the nature of the sport we play and the nature of the disease… I was stuck inside, unable even to exercise in my own apartment.
“It was hard to figure that out during an Olympic year. But my coach managed to keep me on the ground and prepare for the Olympic Trials, and we were able to have a solid block by then and it paid off. disabled. “
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