Why do we love sports? Because anything can happen, right?
That’s true, for the most part, but several athletes and teams have seriously challenged that idea throughout history.
The Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s. Michael Jordan in the NBA Finals. Usain Bolt in the 100-metre dash. Rafael Nadal on clay. Any team playing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs.
Those have all felt like foregone conclusions for a period of time, some still do, but nothing quite compares to Katie Ledecky in the 800-metre freestyle.
Ledecky won her third straight Olympic gold in the event on Friday with a time of 8:12.57 - her 16th-fastest time ever. That’s right, she won gold with her 16th-best time, which might seem crazy until you hear that Ledecky owns the 24 fastest times in the event's history.
Most Olympians work tirelessly and do everything they can to peak just as the Games come around. That doesn’t even seem to matter for Ledecky; she’s a shoo-in on an average day.
The 24-year-old finished 1.26 seconds ahead of Australian rival Ariarne Titmus, who swam a 8:13.83 - the fastest time by someone other than Ledecky, but more than nine seconds shy of the world record set by the American in Rio (8:04.79).
After winning her first Olympic gold in the 800-metre event at London 2012, Ledecky brought home four golds and a silver in Rio, followed by two golds and two silvers in Tokyo to become the most decorated women’s swimmer of all time.
Ledecky’s performance took a slight dip in 2021, and Titmus made her mark as the next great swimmer by winning both the 200-metre and 400-metre freestyle events, but it doesn’t sound like Ledecky's going anywhere.
"That is not my last swim," she told NBC after the 800-metre. "I'm at least going to 2024 (Paris), maybe 2028 (Los Angeles), we'll see."
Ledecky’s best days may be behind her, but she’ll have to stoop incredibly low by her standards to give up the 800-metre crown. It’s more likely that she’ll keep adding to her long list of 24 if she continues attending the Games.
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