Australia's rising star Ariarne Titmus bested her elder rival in the Tokyo Aquatics Center, by beating her twice. Titmus, nicknamed "The Terminator" for her clinical, unrelenting drive, looked to have dethroned Ledecky, considered to be the greatest female swimmer of all.
But Ledecky bounced back to claim the first gold medal in the women’s 1,500-meter freestyle Wednesday, gaining the redemption she and her fans craved. It is her sixth Olympics gold medal.
Ledecky punched the water and hugged Team USA teammate Erica Sullivan, her scrunched-up face holding back tears of joy and possibly relief. She had dominated the race and won by a distance.
“I just wanted to get the job done tonight,” Ledecky told NBC poolside. "I just think of all the great female swimmers the U.S. has had that haven’t had that opportunity to swim that event."
This year’s Olympics did not start well for the 24-year-old native of Washington, D.C.
In the 400-meter freestyle Monday, Titmus took gold over Ledecky, the defending Olympic champion and world-record holder, touching in 3 minutes, 56.69 seconds. Ledecky won the silver in 3:57.36. Titmus' landmark win also catapulted her coach into the spotlight as his celebration went viral.
Two days later, Titmus, 20, won the 200-meter freestyle with Ledecky stunning onlookers by coming in fifth and failing to win a medal. That’s the first time that’s happened to her in an Olympic race, according to The Associated Press.
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About an hour later, however, on her third try at these Games, Ledecky was back in the water to compete again — and this time in the first women’s 1500-meter freestyle race at the Olympics. This time she triumphed, recording a time of 15 minutes and 37 seconds.
“After the 200, I knew I had to turn the page very quickly,” she said, taking stock of the rollercoaster day. “In the warm-down pool, I was thinking of my family. Kind of each stroke, I was thinking of my grandparents.”
“They’re the toughest four people I know,” she added, “and that’s what helped me get through that.”
The two events take place on the same day because swimmers are not supposed to be effective enough across two such varied distances to compete in both, according to NBC Olympics.
To make her victory sweeter, Sullivan came in second with the silver.
"I'm so glad we could do it in the best possible way," Ledecky said.
Titmus did not compete in the 1,500-meter freestyle and the rivalry between the two women will no doubt continue.
The Australian, born in Tasmania, has cited Ledecky as an inspiration to her as a younger swimmer.
Now with two Olympic gold medals under her belt, it may be that she is on her way to usurping the queen of the pool. We will get a better idea when the pair meet again in the 800-meter freestyle event Thursday.