One of the most preposterous streaks in sports remained active Saturday morning in Tokyo: Katie Ledecky is undefeated in every 800-meter freestyle race she’s competed in for 11 years.
The most dominant female swimmer in history cemented her status and immortalized her legend in her final race of 2021 with her signature discipline. Ledecky touched the wall in 8:12.57, giving her the sixth individual gold and 10th Olympic medal of her career.
Her six individual gold medals are now the most by any female U.S. Olympian ever and second-most in swimming to one person: Michael Phelps may forever hold an untouchable number with 13.
But for as phenomenal as Phelps’ five-Olympiad career was, it’s Ledecky who commands a dominance in certain parts of swimming we’ve simply never seen before. Her supremacy specifically in the 800-meter freestyle might represent the most inevitable any athlete has been at anything … ever? Sounds like hyperbole? It’s not. It’s not that she always wins, it’s that she has defined the parameters of what success is in the women’s 800-meter freestyle. Ledecky owns the 22 best times in the history of the event.
This is obscene authority. Her latest gold also meant achieving a three-peat in the 800 free. It marks just the fourth time in history a swimmer has won gold in an individual discipline in three consecutive Olympics. (Phelps’ four straight in the 200-meter individual medley has never been matched.)
Saturday’s 8:12.57 pace was ho-hum by Ledecky standards; it was merely the 16th-fastest time she’s logged. Ledecky, 24, beat out rival Ariarne Titmus, 20, who was not the same swimmer in the 800 as she was when Titmus beat Ledecky earlier in the week in the 200- and 400-meter freestyles. The Aussie hung close the entire race but never truly threatened Ledecky. Titmus touched in 8:13.83.
Consider this: Titmus’ silver-winning swim on Saturday was the fastest non-Ledecky time in the history of the women’s 800-meter freestyle. It barely bested the 23rd-best time of Ledecky’s career. Laughable!
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