Erica Sullivan and Katie Ledecky celebrate after competing in the Women's 1500m Freestyle Final on July 28, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
TOKYO – By any measure, it was an ambitious 73-minute program for a swimmer, even for the incomparable Katie Ledecky.
At 10:41 a.m. Wednesday, step on the blocks at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in the 200-meter freestyle, an event Ledecky won five years ago at the Rio Games.
Race approximately 2 minutes and warm down, taking a break for the medal ceremony at 11:11 a.m.
Finally, at 11:54 a.m., get back on the blocks for the 1,500-meter freestyle, a new Olympic event for women.
Alas, the first part of Ledecky’s schedule did not go as planned. She placed fifth in the 200 free, so there was no medal ceremony to attend.
“After the 200 free, I was trying to find some positive things to get me moving forward,” Ledecky said. “The easiest thing for me is to think about my grandparents…they’re four of the toughest people I know. I knew that if I was thinking about them during the race, I wasn’t going to die. I wasn’t going to have a bad swim, that that would power me through.”
It sure did.
Ledecky returned to the competition pool at the Tokyo Aquatics Center, leading wire to wire to win the first Olympic gold medal in the women’s 1,500. Better yet, at the wall Ledecky greeted teammate Erica Sullivan, who was swimming one lane over and captured the silver medal.
“Honestly, I didn’t realize I got second until I saw (Ledecky) slam the water,” Sullivan said, “so I was like, ‘Oh wow, she must have done something really good.’ And then I looked up, and was like, ‘Oh, shoot, I did something really good.’”
Actually, Sullivan was right the first time, too. Ledecky was so relieved to win the gold medal that she cried briefly as she leaned over a lane rope. Two days earlier, Ariarne Titmus of Australia edged her in the 400-meter freestyle, another event Ledecky had owned in Rio.
She is now tied with Krisztina Egerszegi of Hungary (1988-1996) for most gold medals in individual swimming events with five (800 in London in 2012, 200, 400 and 800 in Rio and now 1,500 in Tokyo).
“I definitely wanted to get at least one and I’ve kind of checked that box,” Ledecky said. “I still always have the big picture in mind. I have the (4 x 200-meter) relay tomorrow and the 800 still left. I still have some great events ahead of me that I now need to turn my focus to.”
In the 200, Titmus won her second gold of the Tokyo Games with an Olympic record time of 1:53.50, while Siobhan Bernadette Haughey (1:53.92) took the silver for Hong Kong’s first swimming medal and Penny Oleksiak of Canada (1:54.70) was third. Ledecky, who was attempting to become the first swimmer to win the women’s 200 twice, clocked 1:55.21.
Titmus said she was surprised Ledecky wasn’t in the mix for the medals. “Yeah, to be honest, I always think that Katie’s going to be there,” she said. “She was definitely there for the first part of the race and I guess she wasn’t at the end. To her credit, she had to race the 1,500 as well.”