Sports2024 Summer Olympics


Katie Ledecky demolishes field to win first Olympic women's 1500 gold medal

Posted at 8:23 PM, Jul 27, 2021

In June of 2017, the women's 1500m freestyle was officially confirmed as an Olympic event starting in Tokyo, bringing long overdue gender equality to distance swimming.

Even then, even with an extra year of waiting, there was zero doubt who the first Olympic champion would be. The only question? By how much.

The foregone conclusion: Katie Ledecky. The margin: 4.13 seconds.

After 500 meters, her lead was nearly two and a half seconds. At the kilometer, nearly four. By then it was over, if it ever truly wasn't.

Every stroke perfectly like the one before. Grace and dominance for a full quarter of an hour.

Never mind that Ledecky's winning time, 15:37.34, was a full "Happy Birthday" verse off her own world record of 15:20:48 set at a Pro Series meet in 2018. For once, the Olympic record mattered more.

"I just wanted to get the job done tonight,” Ledecky said after the history-making race. "I just think of all the great female swimmers the U.S. has had that haven’t had that opportunity to swim that event."

SEE MORE: Katie Ledecky, Erica Sullivan react to historic 1500m swim

She slammed the water in celebration as the race concluded, but not for her own accomplishment. Teammate Erica Sullivan, to Ledecky's elation, claimed the silver in 15:41.41. 

The 20-year-old Sullivan, a longtime open water specialist who's excelled in the pool in the last two years, has now shaved 20 seconds off the personal record of 16:01.71 she had going into the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in June. 

Sullivan was outside the medal picture with six lengths to swim, but kept Ledecky in her sights to charge past Germany's Sarah Kohler (bronze) and China's Wang Jianjiahe.

"There was a point when I saw Katie ahead of me and she was the only one," Sullivan said. "It really gave me that energy, having someone you’ve looked up to for years and seeing them a few meters in front of you, and using that to get home."

Ledecky's victory was impressive enough in a vacuum. Set in it's full context, it nearly defies comprehension. Ledecky was just over an hour removed from competing in the final of the women's 200m freestyle. The two events occur on the same day because swimmers are not supposed to be effective enough across such varied distances to compete in both. Ledecky, the exception, finished fifth in the event won by Aussie Ariarne Titmus.

SEE MORE: Ariarne Titmus swipes second gold of Tokyo Games, Ledecky fifth

Titmus also took the 400 free over Ledecky two days prior. Despite losing her perfect record in individual Olympic competition, Ledecky was unbothered when all was said and done Wednesday.

"I think people maybe feel bad for me that I'm not winning everything but I want people to be more concerned about other things going on in the world where people are truly suffering," Ledecky said after her win, according to USA Today. "I'm just proud to bring home a gold medal to Team USA."