But she took a body-length lead after the fourth lap and extended it further as the contest progressed, pipping Spain's Mireia Belmonte Garcia by over four seconds.
The United States of America has a history of dominating the swimming events at the Olympic Games. And Katie Ledecky will need to live up to her billing to continue the tradition.
Katie Ledecky's performance at the 2016 Rio Olympics
After her spectacular performance in 2012, Katie Ledecky continued her sublime form four years later in Rio. Unlike her debut Olympic Games, where she participated only in the women's 800m freestyle event, this time Ledecky set her sights on the 200m, 400m, 4x100m, and 4x200m categories as well.
First up for her was the 4x100m freestyle relay race. Swimming the anchor leg, Ledecky helped the United States of America win the silver medal and set a national record.
She soon struck gold in her first individual event with a world record time of 3:56.46 in the women's 400m freestyle race. Ledecky showed no signs of complacency at her next event - the women's 200m freestyle race - as she finished on the top podium with her personal best timing of 1:53.73.
In the women's 4x200m freestyle relay event, Ledacky swam in the anchor position and turned a 0.89-second deficit into a 1.84-second lead, clinching gold for the USA.
In her marquee event - the women's 800m freestyle race - Ledecky set another world record by finishing 16 laps in 8:04.79, thereby winning her fourth gold medal.
How did Katie Ledecky train herself for the Tokyo Olympics?
After splendid performances at the earlier two Olympic events, Katie Ledecky will have huge expectations from fans on her shoulders in Tokyo.
The Stanford University graduate was hoping to stamp her authority at the Olympic trials in 2020. But, the COVID-19-induced shutdown hampered her training.
With swimming pools closed all over the country, Ledecky turned to two backyard pools in her area and practiced there for three months. One was just 25 yards long while the other one was even smaller, where she could touch the walls with just a couple of strokes. It was only from June 2020 that she was able to return to her usual training base at Stanford.
There are very few female swimmers able to keep up with Ledecky's pace. Hence, she decided to train twice a week with Liam Egan and True Sweetster, two international male milers. Although both Egan and Sweetster have completed 1500m races in faster times, Ledecky's efforts impressed them. Moreover, on certain occasions, she was able to beat them in individual races.
According to them, what sets Ledecky apart from other swimmers is her intensity. Even if she is gasping for breath near the wall, she shows no signs of fatigue.
"We were always really shocked by her intensity. Katie would come into the wall, her face would be completely purple, she would be breathing ridiculously hard, her cap is falling back and she just doesn't say anything. She is focused on the next rep already," Egan said in an interview with Wall Street Journal.
Katie Ledecky's recent performance in 2021
Many feared that shutdowns and different training routines would derail her form. But Katie Ledecky proved her detractors wrong. At the Pro Swim Series meet held in April this year, she won the 1500m freestyle event with ease.
Ledecky completed her race in 15 minutes, 40.55 seconds, which was 26 seconds faster than the second-placed opponent. Simon Quadarella, who swam the 1500m event in 15 minutes, 57.03 seconds at the Italian Olympic trials, has the second-best time in 2021. By finishing 17 seconds earlier, Ledecky has fired a warning shot in the event set to be added to the Olympic Games for the first time in Tokyo.
Ledecky holds the world record in women's 400m (3:56.46), 800m (8:04.79), and 1500m (15:20.48) freestyle categories and is the favorite to clinch gold. Apart from that, she is also likely to participate in the women's 200m freestyle and 4x200m relay event
“I’m targeting the 200, 400, 800, and 1,500m freestyle and I’d love to be on the 4x200m relay in Tokyo as well. But that’s obviously not an event that we swim at trials. I swam the 100m five years ago and got on that relay so you never know. I might adjust things ever so slightly, but 200m through the mile is the focus.” Katie Ledecky told USA Today.
Ledecky has established herself as a household name from a tender age. With five gold medals already to her name, she will be eager to add more to her collection in Tokyo.
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