By Jim Rusnak//Director of Media Properties | Sunday, August 7, 2016
RIO DE JANEIRO -- When Katie Ledecky swims, people take notice.
And for good reason.Ever since her gold-medal finish at the 2012 Olympic Games in London four years ago, she has become the most dominant force in swimming, winning 14 gold medals on the international stage and setting 11 world records in the 400m free, 800m free and 1500m free.
She wins races not by fingertips, but by body-lengths. She shatters records not just in finals of major international meets, but any time she dives in the water. It doesn’t matter if it’s big meets or little meets, in-season or fully tapered, prelims or finals.
On Sunday night, she added to her list of accolades, winning Olympic gold and setting a world record in the women’s 400m freestyle in 3:56.46. It was one of two gold medals for the Americans, with Caeleb Dressel, Michael Phelps, Ryan Held and Nathan Adrian capping the night with a win in the 400m free relay.
In addition, Cody Miller won bronze and set an American record in the men’s 100m breaststroke; Leah Smith won bronze alongside Ledecky in the 400m free; and Dana Vollmer won a bronze in the women’s 100m butterfly.
Ledecky’s gold in the 400m free came on the heels of setting the Olympic record in this afternoon’s prelims in 3:58.71. With that swim, she became owner of nine of the top 10 swims of all time in this event. Only two women in history have ever swum under the four-minute mark in the 400m free. Federica Pellegrini did it once, in the super suit era of the 2009 FINA World Championships, on her home soil in Rome. Ledecky has now done it nine times.
She bested the rest of the field in Sunday night’s race by more than four and a half seconds. Jazz Carlin of Great Britain took silver in 4:01.23. Smith touched in 4:01.92.
It was Ledecky’s second medal of these Games after winning silver in the 400m free relay Saturday.
"Three (minutes) fifty-six (seconds) was the goal I set after Barcelona (World Championships) in 2013, so it feels really good,” Ledecky said. “I'm pumped. I was so close to breaking it (this morning). I felt good throughout. The swim was almost identical to this morning, but with a bit more pop on the last lap. It's pure happiness."
Just as at the last two Olympic Games, the 400m free relay came down to the United States and France. In those races, the winner came from behind to seal the win. In 2008, Jason Lezak swam the now-legendary fastest leg in history to out-touch France’s Alain Bernard at the wall. In 2012, it was France who out-touched the United States.
The 400m Free Relay
This time around, the Americans jumped out to a lead with Phelps in the second leg and hung on for the win, 3:09.91 to 3:10.53. Adrian, the anchor swimmer, had the fastest split in the field in 46.97. Australia was third in 3:11.37.
The U.S. has now won the 400m free relay nine out of the 12 times it’s been contested in Olympic competition. The Americans have never missed the podium in this event.
"We wanted that race back so badly,” Phelps said. “I played (the London 2012 race) for the guys in the room the other day. In 2008 we had a great one, and in 2012 we fell off a little bit. My last 4x100 relay – it feels (darn) good to get a win.”
The win also marked Phelps’s 23rd career Olympic medal, his 19th gold. His split of 47.12 was the fastest of his career.
"It was crazy,” Phelps said. “I was standing on the blocks while Caeleb (Dressel) was coming in, and I honestly thought my heart was going to explode out of my chest. Having that amount of excitement, the cheering in the stands during that race, I don't know if I have ever heard anything like it."
Men’s 100m Breast
Ledecky’s world record was just one of three set in Sunday’s Finals.
Great Britain’s Adam Peaty also won gold and set the world record in the men’s 100m breaststroke in 57.13, breaking the former mark he set in last night’s semifinals by 42-hundredths of a second. Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa won silver in 58.69, followed by Cody Miller of the U.S., who won bronze and set the American record in 58.87. Miller’s teammate, Kevin Cordes, was fourth in 59.22.
"It was no doubt the fastest heat of the breaststroke ever,” Miller said. “I can feel the stoke right now, and for me to get my hand on the wall and a medal for my country, I honestly can't describe how it feels. I just always hoped I would get a medal. That was pretty cool. That was something."
Miller’s time bested the former American record of 58.94, set by Cordes in the semifinals of the 100m breast at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha.
It was the first Olympic final for both Miller and Cordes, and was also the first individual medal for Miller at a major international meet.
"(Competing against Cordes) is tough,” Miller said. “We're really good friends. We're close, but once we walk out of that dressing room, everyone's going to war.
"You know the cool thing about that race was that pretty much everyone shook hands before racing started. I shook Peaty’s hand. I shook everyone's hand. We're competitors, but we're all really cool and just a great group of guys. I'm honored to be a part of this.”
Another American swimmer winning her second medal of the meet Sunday was Dana Vollmer, who took bronze in the 100m butterfly in 56.63. Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden won gold and set the world record in 55.48, followed by Penny Oleksiak of Canada for silver in 56.46.
Vollmer, the defending Olympic champion in this event, was competing in her first major international competition since the 2013 World Championships.
In March of 2015, she gave birth to her son Arlen. Five months later, she began her comeback with a fourth-place finish in the 100m fly at the U.S. National Championships, then went on to win her signature event in December at the 2015 AT&T Winter Championships. She finished second in the 100m fly at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials to qualify for her third Olympic Games.
Vollmer is one of nine American female swimmers to have won six Olympic medals over the course of her career -- four gold, one silver and one bronze. She still has one event to go in Rio – the women’s 400m medley relay on the final day of competition.
The U.S. has now medaled in five of the last six Olympic Games in the women’s 100m butterfly.
"I'm really, really happy with that,” Vollmer said. “I touched the wall, and I was just like, 'Please let it be a medal.' All I wanted to do was dive in and know I had given it everything I had. No matter what the outcome was, I was just going to be proud of that.
"I've always set extremely lofty goals, and to come back here and race Sarah (Sjostrom), that is setting it at absolutely the top bar. Having taken all those little steps, I feel I have appreciated every day. I remember my first 100m butterfly when I came back being 1:09, and I remember thinking, 'Wow, it's going to take me a while to get back down there'.
"I am more appreciative of every single moment I have out here, as you just never know if you will get another moment. I didn't know if I was even going to get here, so I am extremely proud of my race."
With the relay’s gold and Miller’s bronze, the American men have won 300 medals in the Olympic swimming competition since the advent of the modern games. That includes 136 gold, 97 silver and 67 bronze.
In Rio, the men’s and women’s swimming team has now won a combined eight medals, two gold, three silver and three bronze. The U.S. leads all team in the medal count in the swimming competition.
Do you have gold medal dreams of your own? Find a USA Swimming team near you at swimtoday.org.