She’s been called the world’s most dominant athlete, but Katie Ledecky showed a rare glimpse of mortality on Saturday in anchoring the United States to a silver medal in the women’s 4x100 freestyle relay final as the US swim team won their first medals of the Rio Olympics.
The current world record holder in the 400m, 800m and 1500m frees had only been expected to compete in Saturday afternoon’s prelims, but after swimming the team’s fastest split at 52.6 – nearly a full second faster than any of her team-mates – the Maryland teenager was tabbed on Saturday evening to compete with Dana Vollmer, Simone Manuel, Abbey Weitzeil in the night’s final event at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium.
Strong legs by Manuel and Weitzel left the Americans ahead of Australian team at the halfway point. That set the stage for a homestretch showdown with Cate Campbell, the world record holder in the 100m free, who pulled away from Ledecky in leading her team to a world record time of 3:30.65.
Get used to hearing their names: the twosome are favored sweep the individual freestyle events in Rio.
It marked the first time ever in an Olympics or world championships long course that Ledecky did not win an event in which she participated.
Earlier in the evening Chase Kalisz won silver in the 400m individual medley behind Japan’s Kosuke Hagino in a gripping race.
The 22-year-old from Maryland, who swam the fastest time in Saturday’s prelims, trailed by nearly three seconds at the halfway point but came back strongly on the breaststroke leg to push Hagino to the limit. But the frontrunner held strong to win in 4:06.05, becoming the first Japanese swimmer to win gold in the sport’s toughest event. His countryman Daiya Seto won the bronze, marking the first time since 1956 that Japan claimed two medals in the same Olympic swimming event.
It marks the first time since 1992 that an American didn’t win gold in the 400m IM. Yet in taking three seconds off his personal best to win a medal in his first Olympic final, Kalisz suggested he will be a force for years to come.
“Freestyle is not my best stroke so I tried to keep it as close as possible,” Kalisz said. “I went an incredible time and that’s really good for me. I’m really happy about that.
“Obviously I’m disappointed that it wasn’t enough but I’m more driven than ever. I can’t wait to get back training and hopefully make Tokyo and that’s my next goal right now.”
Maya DiRado spent most of the 400m individual medley on world record pace – yet she still lost by nearly five seconds to Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu, whose time of 4:26.36 broke the world record by more than two seconds.
“A lot of hard work coming together after a lot of years training,” said the 23-year-old DiRado, who has said she will be retiring from competitive swimming after Rio.
The two Americans in the 400m freestyle final – Conor Dwyer and Connor Jaeger – finished fourth and fifth respectively behind Australia’s Mack Horton, who held off China’s Sun Yang in a duel for the gold.
This article was written by Bryan Armen Graham in Rio de Janeiro, for theguardian.com on Sunday 7th August 2016 04.13 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010