RIO DE JANEIRO – The Katie Ledecky Express raced to another Olympic gold medal.
The 19-year-old once again pumped her fist after winning the women’s 200-meter freestyle at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games with a time of 1 minute, 53.73 seconds. It was her third career gold medal – she also won the 400-meter freestyle on Sunday in world-record time and the 800-meter gold in London four years ago – and her third medal of the Rio Games.
“She’s the Queen of Freestyle,” said Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, who was second in 1:54.08, with Emma McKeon of Australia third in 1:54.92.
“It’s not relief, but it’s kind of like the really tough one is done,” Ledecky said. “No matter what the outcome, I was just going to be happy to be in that race. I’m really honored to be swimming next to another world record holder (Sjostrom) and the world record holder in that event (Federica Pelligrini of Italy, who finished fourth in 1:55.18, well off the world record of 1:52.98 she set in 2009), so it’s a really tough field and I had a lot of fun with it.”
Well, she sort of had fun.
Ledecky overcame a queasy feeling in the race which had nothing to do with whether she would win or lose.
“I did come pretty close to throwing up,” Ledecky said. Thanks to a burp with 25 meters to go, she made it through the race.
“I’ve come pretty close at practice a few times so I’m kind of used to it and I know I can get through it,” she added. “It’s almost like you get mad when that happens, and I kind of swim better when I’m mad, so I kind of just dug deep and knew I only had a 25 left.
“I couldn’t se anything going on around me. I just knew I had to fight and get my hand to the wall.”
But Ledecky said she enjoyed being in such a tight field.
“We know we’re going to push each other to get the best of each other,” Ledecky said. “Women’s swimming in this meet has been amazing; to be in a collective final like that has been a great honor.”
Ledecky also won a silver medal by swimming a leg on the 4x100-meter freestyle. Sjostrom’s Swedish team was fifth. She still has the 800-meter freestyle and the 4x200-meter freestyle to go at these Games. If she wins the 800, she will match Debbie Meyer, who won all three events for Team USA in 1968. Ledecky is also the first swimmer since Australian Shane Gould in 1972 to win the 200 and 400.
Ledecky won every event from 200 to 1,500 meters at the 2015 world championships. The 1,500 is not an Olympic event. Ledecky also holds the world record in the 400, 800 and 1,500.
The 200 freestyle pitted Ledecky against Sjostrom, the Olympic gold medalist in the 100-meter butterfly on Saturday and who had a faster qualifying time in the semifinals than Ledecky by .16.
Ledecky was not as dominant as she was in winning the 400-meter freestyle, a race in which she shattered her own world record, on Sunday with a winning time was 3:56.46.
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At 50 meters, Ledecky was in fifth place. By 100 meters, she had pulled up to second, with McKeon still in the lead.
They were on world record pace, as Ledecky took the lead at 150, but while she fell off record pace on the final stretch, she still came home a winner.
Ledecky knew she wouldn’t be able to see Sjostrom in the last 50 because she breathes on the side opposite Sjostrom’s lane.
“I just told myself, I need to really push the third 50 and have a lead going into the last 50,” she said.
Sjostrom said she was surprised she was that close down the stretch.
“But I didn’t have anything more to give the last 50 meters,” she said. “I was just exhausted, I was lucky I had Katie Ledecky’s wave to swim on the last 50 meters because I was just standing still. I did a personal best in the Olympic final, so I couldn’t be happier.”
And what could be better than riding Ledecky’s wave?
“I get some extra speed for free,” Sjostrom said. “The 200 freestyle is a sprint for Ledecky; it’s a long distance event for me, so I think its easier for her. It’s one of the toughest events you can swim, it’s a long sprint event.”
So what makes Ledecky so tough? “She has a very unique technique,” she said, “and she’s a very tough girl, I think.”
Ledecky said she doesn’t count her strokes, but “by the end I was moving my arms and legs as fast as I can and that’s what gets me there the fastest.”
She’s excited about the 800 relay Wednesday, and also thrilled to have the morning off.
“I think if you ask any medalist, at least on Team USA, everybody who wins a medal at night, they come to the pool the next morning, the first question is ‘How much sleep did you get?’” Ledecky said. “It’s really hard to sleep after a great performance, after all these swims; it’s really important to be all business, get as much sleep as I can especially with the late starts.”
She slept in Tuesday morning and said, “I felt fresh and ready to go.”
Ledecky also enjoys racing on the same nights as Michael Phelps, who added two more golds to his medal haul.
“He gets everybody fired up,” she said.
And she noticed that the U.S. men’s basketball squad was in the stands, just like in London. “Before, I was like, ‘That’s good karma that they’re here.’”
But Ledecky generates her own good karma.
“Each night gets better and better,” she said.
As a business analyst like Maya DiRado knows, one is good, but two is better.
“It’s been such a dream this week,” she said.
DiRado won the bronze in the women’s 200-meter individual medley on Tuesday at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The medal is a nice companion piece to the silver she won on Saturday, the opening day of swimming competition, in the 400 IM with a time of 4:31.15.
Katinka Hosszu of Hungary won her third gold with a time of 2 minutes, 6.58 seconds, breaking her own Olympic record of 2:07.45. However, she missed her world record of 2:06.12.
Siobhan-Marie O'Connor of Great Britain was second (2:06.88) and DiRado came in third at 2:08.79.
Melanie Margalis of Team USA was fourth in 2:09.21.
DiRado, a Stanford graduate who studied management science and engineering, will start work at McKinsey & Company in Atlanta on Sept. 9, but she had unfinished business in Rio.
DiRado, who qualified third from the semifinals, could have stopped swimming once she left college, but persevered. She placed fourth at the 2015 world championships in the 200 IM and, with an extra burst Tuesday, made the podium.
DiRado said the difference between last year and the Olympic Games is she was “just better prepared for the race, knowing what the international competition looks like, knowing how fast everyone goes out and then just being able to close on the way home.”