World Championships, Day Three Finals: Katie Ledecky Storms to Third-Fastest Time Ever In 1500 Freestyle; Ties Michael Phelps Record

Katie Ledecky of United States of America prepares to compete in the 400m Freestyle Women Heats during the 20th World Aquatics Championships at the Marine Messe Hall A in Fukuoka (Japan), July 23rd, 2023.

Editorial content for the 2023 World Aquatics Championships is sponsored by FINIS, a longtime partner of Swimming World and leading innovator of suits, goggles and equipment.


World Championships, Day Three Finals: Katie Ledecky Storms to Third-Fastest Time Ever In 1500 Freestyle; Ties Michael Phelps Record

Most records have at least a tinge of surprise to them. In the pool, pre-race expectations might suggest a standard will be broken. But some doubt usually remains until the final time is flashed on the scoreboard. On the baseball diamond, we can only guess on which at-bat will produce a record. On the basketball court, which shot is the question.

The guessing game didn’t apply to Katie Ledecky on the third night of the World Championships.

By registering a time of 15:26.27 in the final of the 1500-meter freestyle, the American distance legend claimed the 15th individual world title of her career. That total moved Ledecky into a tie with Michael Phelps for the most world championships. Phelps accrued his victories from 2001-2011, with his gold medals spanning five events.

Ledecky captured her first three titles at the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona and has added at least one triumph over the next five editions of the competition. She claimed four golds in 2015, three in 2017, one in 2019 and three in 2022. The chance for her 16th solo championship will arrive later in the week in the 800 freestyle, where Ledecky is the five-time defending world champ.

“It really was only on my radar because the media mentioned it,” Ledecky said of the gold-medal record. “It’s an honor. Obviously, I’ve known Michael for many years and looked up him as a little kid. We’re both from Maryland. I never really imagined I would be in this position. It’s always an honor to win a medal for Team USA, especially gold.”

As she stepped onto the starting block at the Marine Messe Hall, there was no uncertainty concerning the next 15-plus minutes. Ledecky was going to prevail, and she was going to win by a convincing margin. It’s what she does – plain and simple. Over 800 and 1500 meters, there is no athlete in the same realm as Ledecky, a fact painted clear in her latest final.

As is her trademark, Ledecky wasted no time taking command of the race. She built a 1.35-second advantage by the 100-meter mark and had a 2.58-second lead through four laps. Going through the 400 checkpoint at 4:05.02, she was at 8:14.07 at the 800, which made her five-plus seconds in front of Italian Simona Quadarella. The gap only widened over the back half of the race, with Ledecky – for all intents and purposes – swimming in her own race.

Quadarella claimed the silver medal, behind a performance of 15:43.31, and China’s Li Bingjie was the bronze medalist, going 15:45.71. The medal is Ledecky’s second of the week, following her silver in the 400 freestyle from the opening night. In that race, Ledecky finished behind Australian Ariarne Titmus, who set a world record. The American noted that her distance stroke has felt better than her 400 stroke throughout the year, and that fact was on display in Fukuoka.

At the touch, Ledecky turned to look at the scoreboard and slapped the water when she saw her time. That exuberance confirmed her satisfaction with the time, the third-fastest in history. The 26-year-old now owns the 16-quickest marks ever produced. More, her world-record entry of 15:20.48 (from 2018) is 18 seconds faster than the No. 2 performer of all-time, Denmark’s Lotte Friis. Taking those statistics into account, it’s obvious why Ledecky was considered a lock to win even before the race unfolded.

The gold medal was Ledecky’s fifth in the 1500 freestyle, 2019 the only year she didn’t win the event since first appearing at the World Championships. That year, Ledecky was hit by a stomach virus and forced to withdraw from the 30-lap discipline. In her absence, the title was won by Quadarella.

“It was a really good performance for me,” Ledecky said. “The last couple of years, I’ve tried to be locked in on my stroke and my rhythm and the work I’ve put in. I’ve been putting in a lot of work for the 800 and the mile and I’m getting  more and more confident each time I swim those events. Getting under 15:30 a couple of weeks ago was really big. I hadn’t been there since before the pandemic, and to chop three more seconds is really good.”



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