BUDAPEST, Hungary – It was Katie Ledecky vs. the clock at the FINA World Championships.
Only the clock could keep pace with her as she won the women’s 1,500-meter freestyle for her third gold medal of the meet. Ledecky became the first three-time champion in the women’s 1,500 at worlds and the all-time leader in gold medals among female swimmers with 12, breaking a tie at 11 with Team USA’s Missy Franklin.
Ledecky already had a body-length lead on the field well before the first turn, so then it was just a matter of time over the next 29 laps. Could Ledecky break her own world record set two years ago at the 2015 worlds in Kazan, Russia?
She was a third of a second under world record pace after 150 meters, but wound up with a time of 15 minutes, 31.82 seconds, which was 6.34 seconds off her world mark. Still, it was the fourth fastest women’s 1,500 of all time.
Mireia Belmonte of Spain was second in 15:50.89 followed by Simon Quadarella of Italy in 15:53.86. The last finisher was Ajna Kesely of Hungary at 16:22.87.
Ledecky has eight of the top 10 times in history in the event, which will make its Olympic debut for women at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
Her time at 800 meters would have won the race at the 2015 World Championships, which was won by… Katie Ledecky.
As the race wore on, Ledecky would splice through the other swimmers as they swam in the opposite direction, reaching them later and later as the laps rolled by. She had lapped two of her competitors by the end of the race.
On Sunday, Ledecky won the 400 free and swam a leg on the winning 4x100-meter freestyle. She still has the 200 free, 800 free and 4x200 free left to swim.
She also had a race against the clock to get ready for her next event: the semifnals of the women’s 200 free, which started 49 minutes later.
“I had to get in the warmdown pool,” Ledecky said. “I got 800 or 900 (meters) in, and tried to stay in as long as I could before they pulled me for awards.”
She then went straight to the ready room.
Ledecky was the leading qualifier in the 200 with a time of 1:54.69, followed by Emma McKeon of Australia at 1:54.99.
“I felt like I was in a good mental spot going into the 200,” Ledecky said. “I just felt like I could treat it like any other race, like I hadn’t swum the mile beforehand.”
However, she was in the rare position of trailing McKeon for the first 100 meters, just as she had in Rio last summer. But Ledecky’s strength then came to the forefront and she pulled ahead.
Ledecky said that swimming 1:54 “coming off that mile is really good for me. It puts me in a good spot for tomorrow.”