Tokyo Vision: Katie Ledecky Chasing History and Three-Peat In 800 Freestyle

Katie Ledecky of the United States of America (USA) reacts after winning in the women’s 800m Freestyle Final during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 27 July 2019.
Katie Ledecky - Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

Tokyo Vision: Katie Ledecky Chasing History and Three-Peat In 800 Freestyle

Had the COVID-19 pandemic not shaken the world, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo would be unfolding right now, titles and podium finishes earned by the finest athletes from around the world. Instead, we are in a competition lull and hopeful that the Games will be held next summer, with COVID-19 neutralized.

As we reach the nine days over which the swimming competition of a delayed Olympiad would have taken place, Swimming World is taking a glimpse at what might have unfolded this summer, had the Olympics not been postponed. Following the official schedule, we offer our virtual fields of eight finalists for each event and take a brief look at how the racing might have panned out until a few strokes away from decision and a result that will not be known until July/August 2021.

League of Olympic Legends: Janet Evans & Katie Ledecky Top Podium in 800 Free with Adlington & Meyer

Event: Women’s 800m Freestyle
World Record: Katie Ledecky (2016) – 8:04.79

Historical Note #1: American women have won nine of the 13 titles available since the event was introduced to the Olympic program at Mexico City in 1968. Janet Evans and Brooke Bennett both won it twice as has Katie Ledecky, who will now be looking to become the first woman to claim three gold medals over 16 lengths.

Historical Note #2: When Rebecca Adlington won the title in Beijing 2008, she lowered the world record to 8:14.10. It had been held by American great Janet Evans since August 1989, a span of 19 years. Katie Ledecky then lowered her own mark at Rio 2016 when her winning margin of 11.38secs over second-placed Jazz Carlin was the largest in Olympic history while Ai Shibata’s 0.42 edge over Laure Manaudou at Athens 2004 was the tightest.

Virtual Vision

The Finalists (Listed Alphabetically)

  • Mireia Belmonte – Spain
  • Sarah Kohler – Germany
  • Katie Ledecky – United States
  • Kiah Melverton – Australia
  • Simona Quadarella – Italy
  • Leah Smith – United States
  • Ariarne Titmus – Australia
  • Wang Jianjiahe – China

The Race

Quadarella Simona ITA Gold Medal 1500m Freestyle Women Glasgow 07/08/2018 Swimming Tollcross International Swimming Centre LEN European Aquatics Championships 2018 European Championships 2018 Photo Andrea Staccioli/ Deepbluemedia /Insidefoto

Simona Quadarella: Photo Courtesy: Deepbluemedia/Giorgio Scala

Katie Ledecky came into Tokyo 2020 unbeaten over 800m for the duration of her career after making a golden debut at the Olympics in London in 2012. Her dominance however had been challenged in other events and in 2019, illness combined with on-form rivals, had seen Ledecky learn to fight like never before. She was beaten by Ariarne Titmus in the 400 free and appeared to be on course for a similar result in the 800 as Simona Quadarella hit the front in the latter stages. Ledecky, however, drew on every reserve she had and claimed an emotional victory.

While Ledecky had won, a warning shot had been fired and Ledecky knew she needed to be on top form to see off her challengers. In reality, should she get anywhere near her best, no-one gets near Ledecky. As was customary she went out down the first length in 28, and her splits thereafter were metronomic, oscillating between low 30s to mid 31s.

The American reached the halfway point in the lead but there was no clear daylight between her and Quadarella who was tracking her. There was a proper tussle going on behind the Italian between Wang Jianjiahe, the Asian Games champion, open water specialist Sarah Kohler and Titmus.

Ledecky led with 200 to go with Quadarella seemingly clear in second and the order stayed the same following the final turn only for Titmus to turn on the burners and make a move down that last 50.

Quadarella and the Australian pushed each other on with Ledecky in their sights. What would happen? Could anyone catch Ledecky and ruin her dream of three consecutive titles? Who would reach the podium? Who would miss out?

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