Related story: Hundreds watch record swim at Stone Ridge
After watching Team USA teammates Michael Phelps and Missy Franklin add to their Olympic gold medal collections Friday in London, fifteen-year-old Katie Ledecky, a Bethesda resident and rising sophomore at the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, shocked the world by following suit to win her own Olympic prize in the women's 800-meter freestyle final in London.
“Missy and Michael's races got me pumped up and I just wanted to see how well I could do then to represent the U.S.,” Ledecky said in a USA Swimming soundbite sent to The Gazette. “[Two years ago] I don't think I would have thought this was possible. I've just been setting short term and long term goals and working my butt off and getting faster progressively.”
Ledecky had the third-fastest time in Thursday's preliminary round. Friday was her first-ever Olympic final swim.
The youngest member of the 530-athlete Team USA, Ledecky's gold medal-winning time of 8 minutes, 14.63 seconds broke Janet Evans' 23-year American record and was a remarkable 4.13 seconds faster than the silver medalist, Mirela Belmonte Garcia of Spain.
That time was nearly five seconds faster than Ledecky's Olympic Team Trials win July 1.
Ledecky remained on the world record mark for a good portion of Friday's swim but ultimately finished with the world's second best time, still becoming the youngest athlete to ever win the women's 800-meter race.
“I [didn't know I was on the world record line] but I figured I was going pretty fast and at one point I thought, 'If I'm going to be close to the world record or not, I don't care, I just want to get my hand on the wall first,'” Ledecky said. “It's just great to be here and to have had such great distance swimmers that came before me and really inspired all of us.”