The greatest testament to Katie Ledecky’s dominance is that she’s managed to make world records seem ordinary. Her time of 3:56.46 in Sunday night’s 400-meter freestyle final, 1.91 seconds faster than her previous world record of 3:58.37, was as predictable as it was impressive. We all knew the 19-year-old Stanford commit would break her old record; the only question was by how much.
During Sunday afternoon’s semifinal, Ledecky recorded a new Olympic record of 3:58.71. You might have worried that Ledecky had pushed herself too hard with the finals still to come, but here’s the thing: She set an Olympic record without swimming her hardest. Ledecky let up at the end of the race, which didn’t matter since the second-place swimmer, Great Britain’s Jazmin Carlin, was more than four seconds behind.
Naturally, expectations were high for the final, and she delivered, notching her second career Olympic gold medal:
After the race, Ledecky casually noted that her goal was a sub-3:57 clocking. That gave her enough time to celebrate before anyone else had finished:
In fact, her margin of victory was practically unheard of …
… and the 400 isn’t even considered her strongest event. That would be the 800-meter freestyle, which is coming up on Thursday. As the 800-meter freestyle and 1,500-meter freestyle world-record holder, she’s considered a long-distance specialist, but she’ll also be competing in Monday’s 200-meter freestyle, and she posted Team USA’s fastest split in Saturday’s silver-medal-winning 4x100m relay. Imagine if one of America’s top distance runners — say, miler Matthew Centrowitz — was asked to anchor Team USA’s 4x100m relay against Usain Bolt. You can’t, because that would never, ever happen. Ledecky’s versatility is mind-blowing.
As the Washington Post proclaimed in June, Ledecky is simply better at swimming than anyone else is at anything. Her only competition is the clock, and her only limit is the Olympic swimming schedule. (Plus, it’d just be unfair if she tried the other strokes, right?) When Dory famously said “just keep swimming” in Finding Nemo, it’s clear that Ledecky, who was 6 years old when the movie came out, took those words to heart. She’ll just keep swimming, and the gold medals will keep piling up.