Tokyo Vision: Katie Ledecky Makes Inaugural 1500 Freestyle for Women a Coronation


Tokyo Vision: Katie Ledecky Makes Inaugural 1500 Freestyle for Women a Coronation

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: Katie Ledecky Tops 1500 Free Podium With Evans & Gould

Event: Women’s 1500 Freestyle
World Record: Katie Ledecky (2018) – 15:20.48

Historical Note #1: This year marks the first time the 1500 freestyle is being held at a women’s event at the Olympic Games. With the addition of the 1500 freestyle for women and the 800 freestyle for men, the programs for each gender match.

Historical Note #2: Katie Ledecky’s world record of 15:20.48 is 18 seconds quicker than the No. 2 performer in history, Denmark’s Lotte Friis (15:38.88). That world-record time would have captured the gold medal in the men’s 1500 freestyle as recently as the 1972 Games in Munich.

Virtual Vision

The Finalists (Listed Alphabetically)

  • Mireia Belmonte – Spain
  • Wang Jianjiahe – China
  • Boglarka Kapas – Hungary
  • Sarah Kohler – Germany
  • Katie Ledecky – United States
  • Lani Pallister – Australia
  • Simona Quadarella – Italy
  • Erica Sullivan – United States

The Race

Thirty-six years after the marathon was introduced for women at the 1984 Olympics, women are finally being given the opportunity to race the longest pool distance in their sport in Olympic competition. The event has been part of the program at the World Championships since 2001.

At last summer’s World Championships, Katie Ledecky was forced to withdraw after the preliminaries of the event due to illness. The withdrawal snapped Ledecky’s streak of three consecutive world titles and generated motivation within the distance ace to regain her perch atop the global scene. Meanwhile, Ledecky’s absence opened the door for Italian Simona Quadarella to capture the gold medal behind a new Italian record.

Earlier in the session, Ledecky raced in the final of the 200 freestyle, but there was little doubt Ledecky would be compromised by her first event of the day. With a huge cushion over the field, it was no surprise when Ledecky bolted to the front of the field, almost immediately opening up a body-length lead. It has long been a trademark of Ledecky to attack the race from the start and make it clear the opposition did not stand a chance.

As the race unfolded, Ledecky continued to extend her edge on the way to history. Really, these 30 laps were more of a coronation and the latest accolade in a career filled with achievements. The only question was how close she would get to her world record, and that is where her earlier 200 freestyle would have the biggest effect. By the midpoint of the race, Ledecky was several lengths clear of her opponents, and as she headed into the last 100, the NBC television cameras had to pan out to capture Ledecky and her pursuers in the same picture.

At one point during the race, NBC analyst Rowdy Gaines made a terrific assessment that spoke to the ridiculousness of the 1500 freestyle not being an event until 2020: “Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have seen Janet Evans get this opportunity?,” Gaines mused. “It’s about time this event is on the schedule for the women. This should have happened a long time ago.”

Behind Ledecky, Quadarella and Mireia Belmonte jockeyed for the second position at various points during the race while Sarah Kohler lurked. Lani Pallister was also a factor, her youth hardly a hindrance. As Ledecky waited at the wall after finishing in the low-15:20s, a frenzied finish saw Quadarella, Belmonte, Kohler and Pallister fighting for the podium, and a chance to join the queen for the celebratory stroll around the deck.

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