“I just wanted to get the job done tonight,” Ledecky said after the historic race. “I just think of all the great swimmers in the United States who didn’t have the chance to swim this event. “
She slammed the water to celebrate the end of the race, but not for her own accomplishment. Teammate Erica Sullivan, to Ledecky’s elation, took silver in 15: 41.41.
Sullivan, 20, a longtime open water specialist who has excelled in the pool for the past two years, has now reduced by 20 seconds the personal best of 16: 01.71 she had before the Olympic swimming trials in the United States in June.
Sullivan was out of the medal photo with six lengths to swim, but kept Ledecky in his sights to pass Germany Sarah Kohler (bronze) and China Wang Jianjiahe.
“There was a point where I saw Katie in front of me and she was the only one,” Sullivan said. “It really gave me that energy, to have someone you have admired for years and see them a few feet in front of you, and use that to come home. “
Ledecky’s victory was pretty impressive in a vacuum. Set in its full context, it almost defies understanding. Ledecky was just over an hour from the competition in the women’s 200m freestyle final. The two events are held on the same day because swimmers are not expected to be efficient enough over such varied distances to compete in both. Ledecky, the exception, finished fifth in the event won by the Australian Ariarne Titmus.