Katie Ledecky competes in the women's 800-meter freestyle at the Budapest 2017 FINA World Championships on July 29, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary.
BUDAPEST, Hungary – After racing a total of nearly 4 miles and swimming countless more in training, warmups and warmdowns, Katie Ledecky called it a meet.
“It’s pretty tiring,” she said. “I’m pretty wiped right now, but I’m happy with how it went.”
Ledecky won the women’s 800-meter freestyle at the FINA World Championships Saturday night for her fifth gold medal and 14th overall. She also won her lone silver in three world championships for a total of 15 medals, tying for third on the all-time women’s list with Lisbeth Lenton of Australia and trailing only Team USA’s Natalie Coughlin (20) and Missy Franklin (16).
“I’m happy with the five gold and one silver,” Ledecky said. “I know there’s a lot of room for improvement for me, as crazy as that sounds. Moving forward I’m going to be really motivated and I’m really looking forward to working toward 2020.”
Ledecky’s winning time was 8 minutes, 12.68 seconds, the 10th fastest race ever. She has the top 15 fastest performances in history and 18 of the top 19.
Ledecky, 20, is the first three-time winner of the 800 free at worlds and combined with her Olympic victories in 2012 and 2016, she is the first woman to win five straight in major competition. She broke a tie with Janet Evans with four.
Ledecky also won gold at the Danube Arena in the 400 free, 1,500 free, 4 x 100 free relay and 4 x 200 free relay for a total of 6,300 meters.
Li Bingjie of China chopped almost 5 seconds off her previous best to win the silver in 8:15.46 while Leah Smith of Team USA took the bronze in 8:17.22, a personal best by nearly 3 seconds, for her third medal of the meet.
Ledecky had aimed to tie Franklin with six golds from 2013, but her tie for second in the 200 free ended that bid. Still, Franklin had three individual events and three relays while Ledecky had four individual events and two relays.
For the first time at worlds, Ledecky did not lower her own world records. She broke world records in the 800 free and 1,500 free at both the 2013 worlds in Barcelona and the 2015 worlds in Kazan.
Ledecky was on world record pace early in Saturday’s race, but fell off by the midway point.
“This year I didn’t really set very specific time goals or goals in general,” she said. “I wanted to repeat in all my different events from the past two worlds, just play a part on some good Team USA relays.”
She said she didn’t have big expectations, especially compared to the last couple of years, but knew there were external expectations.
Even her competitor Li told Chinese media that Ledecky didn’t perform as well as she thought she would.
When Ledecky was asked about Li’s comment, she showed a flash of the competitiveness she usually leaves at the edge of the pool.
“My time wasn’t as fast as I’ve been, but it’s still faster than anybody else has ever been,” Ledecky said. “And it was the end of a really long week for me, a lot of ups and downs. I was happy to just get the gold and that’s all I really wanted to do in this race tonight, going out and swimming the best race I can. You don’t know what anybody else was going to do. If she was going to come up and challenge me, I would have had to respond.”
Ledecky said she just wanted to take the lead and “get my hand to the wall first.”
And that’s just what she did, in five finals out of six.
Ledecky said she and her coach, Greg Meehan at Stanford, learned a lot from the meet, though she expects the schedule at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 to look different.
Ledecky said she’s motivated by friends, family and her support system.
“I’m always looking forward to the next thing,” said Ledecky.
After she won four golds and a silver at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, Ledecky dove into the college season at Stanford, and she’ll do the same this year “taking care of business both in and out of the pool.”
She doesn’t know what she’s majoring in yet, so she’s taking a variety of classes, “jumping around and exploring as much as I can,” Ledecky said.
And no, she still doesn’t have her driver’s license. She bikes everywhere on the Stanford campus and when she’s home, her parents drive her and she enjoys the time in the car with them.
“It’s not on the top of my to-do list right now,” Ledecky said. “I could just swim everywhere, couldn’t I?”
Swimming has definitely taken her places, and will continue to do so.
“I’ll set some big goals moving forward,” Ledecky said. “I’m not really looking at a certain medal count. I’m just trying to do better than I have and always working towards those personal goals I set for myself.”