RIO DE JANEIRO – Katie Ledecky continued her assault on the Rio Olympics by annihilating the women’s 400-meter freestyle world record to pick up her first gold medal of the games on Sunday.
Michael Phelps also extended his all-time record haul of Olympic medals with his 19th gold, helping the U.S. team to victory ahead of France and Australia in the men’s 4 x 100-meter relay.
Ledecky came home in a time of 3 minutes, 56.46 seconds — almost 2 seconds faster than her own previous world-best mark of 3:58.37 — to add gold to the 4 x 100-meter freestyle silver medal she won with the United States team the previous night.
“It’s pure happiness,” said Ledecky, who at the age of 19 has already won nine world titles and one gold medal from the London Games.
“The goal I set after worlds in 2015 was 3:56 or better, and just to see the 56 up there feels really good. I knew that I had a lot left at the end and I just let it all out. I don’t like to think too much. I just like to keep my focus on how I’m feeling and keep my eye on the black line.”
World records tumbled elsewhere at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium, with Britain’s Adam Peaty recording a time of 57.13 seconds in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke and Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom winning the women’s 100-meter butterfly in 55.48 seconds.
But it was Ledecky who made the most eye-catching statement of the night, sending an ominous warning to the rest of the competition as she gears up for the 200m and 800m freestyles later this week.
“Last night’s relay gave me a lot of confidence that I’m going to have a great week and it helped me to relax,” said Ledecky, who finished ahead of Jazz Carlin (4:01.23) of Britain and Leah Smith (4:01.92) of the U.S. “I was relaxed and not shaking getting up on the blocks tonight.”
Phelps picked up his first medal of the Rio Games, swimming the second leg for the U.S. despite not competing in any freestyle events at the U.S. trials.
The U.S. team of Phelps, Caeleb Dressel, Ryan Held and Nathan Adrian touched first in a time of 3 minutes, 9.92 seconds, with France second in 3:10.53 and Australia third in 3:11.37.
Phelps was part of the team that finished second behind France in London four years ago, and the most decorated Olympian of all time was happy to take revenge.
“It was crazy,” said Phelps. “I was standing on the blocks while Caeleb 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’ve ever heard anything like it.
“We wanted that race so badly. I played that (London) race for the guys in the room the other day.”
Peaty gave Britain its first gold medal of the Rio Games when he finished in 57.13, ahead of Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa (58.69) and Cody Miller of the U.S. (58.87)
Peaty became only the third British man to win the event after Duncan Goodhew in 1980 and Adrian Moorhouse in 1988, and the 21-year-old was happy to end his country’s 28-year drought.
“That was one of many motivations coming into these games,” said Peaty. “It was always in the back of my mind, 28 years is a very long time.
“But going into this race I was so composed, so calm. I wasn’t even thinking about that but now that I’ve done it, it’s an absolute honor to get that gold for Team GB. Nothing means more to me than racing for my country, racing for the queen, the royal family and the people back home that support me.”
Yasuhiro Koseki finished sixth behind Peaty in a time of 59.37 seconds, but the Yamagata Prefecture native refused to be despondent as he prepares for the 200-meter breaststroke later this week.
“I really enjoyed the atmosphere, and right from the first race I felt capable of racing as best I could,” said the 24-year-old.
Sjostrom proved too strong for the competition as she set a new world record in the women’s 100-meter butterfly, leaving 16-year-old Rikako Ikee in sixth place with a personal-best time of 56.86 seconds in her first individual Olympic final.
“I’m happy more than disappointed,” said Ikee, who was part of the Japan team that finished eighth in the women’s 4 x 100-meter relay the previous night. “I wanted to get 56-something seconds or if not, 57-something. Everyone was urging me to get 56-something so I’m happy that I achieved it.
“I was really nervous but I managed to relax and race my race. I didn’t want to go too fast in the first half so I could save something for the second half, but I think a little tiredness from last night caught up with me.”
Elsewhere in the pool, 400-meter individual medley gold medalist Kosuke Hagino booked his place in Monday’s 200-meter freestyle, qualifying with a second-fastest time of 1 minute, 45.45 seconds behind China’s Sun Yang, who clocked 1:44.63.
“I’m really enjoying the Olympic atmosphere and it’s giving me confidence,” said Hagino.
Satomi Suzuki and Kanako Watanabe both failed to advance to the women’s 100-meter breaststroke final, finishing 12th and 15th overall, respectively, in the semis.