World Championships: Katie Ledecky Wins 800 Free, First to Win 5 Straight World Titles

LEDECKY Katie USA celebrating Gold Medal, GRIMES Katie USA Silver Medal 1500m Freestyle Women Final Swimming FINA 19th World Championships Budapest 2022 Budapest, Duna Arena 20/06/22 Photo Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto
Photo Courtesy: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

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World Championships: Katie Ledecky Wins 800 Free, First to Win 5 Straight World Titles

If anyone can understand how difficult it is to win five straight World Championships, it might just be Katie Ledecky.

She won the 400 freestyle at three straight Worlds before Ariarne Titmus dethroned her in 2019. An illness then ended her bid at a four-peat in the 1,500 freestyle at that meet in Gwanju, South Korea. But in amongst that adversity, Ledecky managed to gut out a win over 1,500 champ Simona Quadarella in the 800 free and keep alive her streak of four straight titles in that event.

Friday, Ledecky became the first swimmer in history to win five consecutive World Championships in the same event, positively reigning over the field in the 800 free to win in 8:08.04.

“I’m happy with it. I can’t complain,” Ledecky said on the NBC broadcast. “I thought it was a little faster than that, but that’s the fastest I’ve been in a while, so really thrilled with that and really excited about the future as well.”

Ledecky pulled away early and completed the quintet by nearly 11 seconds. It was Ledecky’s fifth-fastest time in the event. With her performance at International Team Trials, it’s the first two times in four years she’s been under 8:10. She now owns the 27 fastest times in the event, not counting the opening to 1,500 swims.

The 800 has always been Ledecky’s baby. It was her introduction to the global scene when she won the Olympic crown in 2012 in London. She’s the three-time reigning Olympic champion in the event, and for all the talent growing around her, it’ll take something very special in the next two years to deny her a fourth gold in Paris in 2024.

What that means, if you step back, is so special: For the last decade, Ledecky has had total hegemony over the 800 free, complete and unerring dominance over her rivals.

Though Ledecky at times makes it look easy, that doesn’t mean it has been, and it’s taken a lot of work for her to get to the top and stay there.

“Year after year it’s really hard work,” she said. “In London I won my first gold ten years ago, back then they said I was a one-hit wonder – and here we are, ten years later and I have another gold.”

The win is her 19th World Championships gold medal, pushing her ahead of Ryan Lochte. Only Michael Phelps at 26 has more. Phelps (33) and Lochte (27) are the only swimmers with more total Worlds medals than Ledecky’s 22. She already passed Natalie Coughlin for the most medals for a woman at Worlds. She joins Phelps (200 fly) and Katinka Hosszu (200 IM) as five-time World Champions in the same event.

Ledecky was first in prelims Thursday morning by seven seconds. The holder of the second seed, Australian Lani Pallister, withdrew from the event due to COVID-19. She had gone 8:24.66, elevating Leah Smith to the second seed and getting Viviane Jungblut of Brazil into the final.

Eighth in prelims was Pallister’s countrywoman, Kiah Melverton. Melverton brought some outside smoke to pull away from the field early and nab silver in 8:18.77. That was the plan that her morning swim forced her into.

“It just feels great to have this silver medal,” Melverton said. “I didn’t really know what to expect after the heats, but in the final I was on lane 1 so I know I had to go out and be as fast as I could. And the others this way might not see me.I managed to keep up a good pace and I’m really happy with this silver medal.”

Third was Quadarella, holding off a late charge from Smith by just over a second. Smith finished fourth. The bronze is a measure of consolation for Quadarella, who finished a distant fifth in the 1,500.

“The 1500m went very bad, I was so disappointed after that final,” she said. “But now I’m very glad with this 800m, it’s like the last year Olympics, 1500m was a disaster, then the 800m was great. I tried to focus on my own race, I started swimming easily and then catch up the others. And it worked – so I’m very happy now.”

For Katie Ledecky, it’s a fitting way to end another outstanding international meet for the greatest women’s distance swimmer of all-time.

“It was a great week, probably the most fun I’ve had in a meet in a long time,” she said. “And the results showed. It’s just a really special team, and I know we’re not finished. And now I get to cheer.”


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