Katie Ledecky poses for a photo during the medal ceremony of the women's 800-meter freestyle final at the 2022 FINA World Championships on June 24, 200 in Budapest, Hungary.
When Katie Ledecky dives into the pool to start the 800-meter freestyle, she’s not racing against seven other swimmers. She’s racing against herself.
Coming into Friday’s 800 freestyle final at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, Ledecky had the 26 fastest times in the event’s history. The 25-year-old now has the 27 fastest times, as she finished in 8 minutes, 8.04 seconds — more than 10 seconds faster than Kiah Melverton of Australia in second — to capture another gold medal.
The Bethesda, Maryland, native is now the first swimmer to win a world title in the same event five times in a row. After winning the 400 and 1,500 freestyle races earlier in the week, she has also captured the distance treble for the fourth time at the world championships, having also done so in 2013, 2015 and 2017.
“I’m happy with it, I can’t complain,” she told NBC Sports in a post-race interview. “Honestly I thought I was a little faster than that, but that’s the fastest I’ve been in a while so I’m really thrilled with that.”
The 800 was Ledecky’s final race of the competition, and it capped a perfect week for her, as she won all four finals she swam in. Her four golds in Hungary give her a career total of 19 at the world championships. That passes Ryan Lochte’s 18 for second all-time and puts her seven behind Michael Phelps’ record of 26.
“It was a great week, probably the most fun I’ve had at a meet in a long time, and the results showed,” Ledecky said.
Earlier in the night, Michael Andrew got some redemption after finishing fourth in the 50 freestyle in Tokyo by three hundredths of a second. His time of 21.41 in today’s 50 freestyle final was 0.19 seconds faster than his time in Tokyo and earned him a silver medal, his third medal this week.
The 23-year-old from Encinitas, California, went on to compete in the final of the 100 butterfly about 40 minutes later. He just missed out on a second medal of the day, as he finished in fourth place, .14 seconds away from the podium.
Phoebe Bacon and Rhyan White each had only one individual event in Hungary: the 200 backstroke. The Olympians finished 2-3 in the final, earning each of them their first world championships medals. Bacon got off to a great start and led at the 100 and 150 turn. Australian Kaylee McKeown, the defending Olympic champion in the 100 and 200 backstroke, swam the final 50 meters in 31.70 to beat Bacon by four hundredths of a second to win goal. White, 22, and Bacon, 19, have gotten used to competing in this event together, as they finished 4-5 in Tokyo last summer. They have started to comfort each other in the ready room before competing to help calm pre-race nerves.
“When we walk in we know together we’re a force to be reckoned with,” Bacon said. “We just have some fun, smile, usually sing a little, but we have fun.”
Capping off the night was the mixed 4x100 freestyle relay, an event in which the U.S. set a world record of 3:19.40 at the 2019 world championships in South Korea. That record was broken by Australia tonight, as it finished in 3:19.38 to capture gold. The U.S. team of Ryan Held, Brooks Curry, Torri Huske and Claire Curzan won the bronze, finishing just under a half second behind runner-up Canada.
It’s the fifth medal of the week for Huske, which is the most of any American. She’ll have a chance at a sixth in tomorrow’s 50 freestyle final after she finished seventh in tonight’s semifinal.
With five medals Friday, the U.S. now has 37 total medals in Hungary, 22 more than second-most Australia. Ledecky’s gold gives the Americans 15 in the competition; every other country combined has won 20.
The swimming portion of the FINA World Championships wraps up on Saturday.