It was never a matter of if, just a matter of when: Katie Ledecky won her first individual gold of the 2016 Rio Olympics in world record time on Sunday night.
The 400m freestyle was her first individual swim of the Games, and she won with a time of three minutes, 56.46 seconds. Her nearest competitor, Great Britain’s Jazz Carlin, earned the silver medal almost five seconds behind Ledecky. She broke the existing world record – her own, set in 2014 – by about two seconds.
Ledecky’s U.S. teammate Leah Smith claimed the bronze with 4:01.92.
She took the Olympic record, formerly held by the late Camille Muffat of France, in the morning preliminary session. Afterward, she told media it was the “easiest it’s felt going under four minutes,” which she thought was a good sign for Sunday night.
Ledecky has been unstoppable in the 400m distance she missed out on racing it at the 2012 Olympics. At the U.S. Trials in 2012, she finished third and missed punching a ticket to London. It fueled her fire to make the team, which she did in the 800m freestyle. Then, at 15, Ledecky claimed a surprise Olympic gold in the longer race.
At the 2013 World Championships in Barcelona, she won gold and set an American record in the 400m freestyle. Plus, she set world records in the 800m and 1500m, earning gold medals in both.
In the summer of 2014, she became the first woman since Janet Evans to simultaneously hold world records in the 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyle.
At the 2015 World Championships, she expanded her program to include the 200m freestyle. She won four individual golds (200m, 400m, 800m and 1500m freestyles) a feat now known as the Ledecky slam.
Ledecky already won silver in Saturday night’s 4x100m freestyle relay team alongside Simone Manuel, Abbey Weitzeil and Dana Vollmer. That silver medal marked the first time in 15 international races, dating back to her surprise gold medal in the 800m freestyle in London, that she did not win gold. Still, she said she was proud of the effort the squad displayed. After all, Ledecky anchored against Australian Cate Campbell, owner of the individual 100m freestyle world record.
Ledecky still has several races to come at these Games, with the opportunity to earn up to three more medals: the 200m freestyle, 800m freestyle and 4x200m freestyle relay. She can join Amy van Dyken and Missy Franklin as the only American women to earn four gold medals in a single Olympics.