Without the Australian shadows of her archenemy Ariarne Titmus, at home, outside the championship, and Lani Pallister, positive for covid on Thursday, Katie Ledecky had no rival to hang the fourth of the four golds she was chasing at the World Cup in Budapest, this time in the 800 free, his fetish test.
The American leaves Hungary with two more historic milestones to her record: being the woman who has won the most medals in World Cup history, 21, surpassing Natalie Coughlin's 20 and hot on the heels of Ryan Lochte (27) and Michael Phelps (33); and as the first swimmer in history to win the same event in five consecutive World Cups (Barcelona 2013, Kazan 2015, Budapest 2017, Gwangju 2019 and now).
There was little doubt that the gold from the 800 in Budapest would also end up hanging around Ledecky's neck. In Thursday's qualifying series, the American set the best time in 8:17.51, that is, 7 seconds faster than Pallister and her countrywoman Leah Smith, who was the first to approach her in the final. Although she fainted soon, after the first 50 meters, she was clearly surpassed by the Australian Kiah Melverton... she was the last to qualify among the 8 finalists and she ended up taking silver.
Ledecky's command of the 16 pitches was overwhelming. Swimming down lane 4, in the first 150 meters he was already one second ahead of Melverton; the rent rose to two seconds in the 250, to 3.2 in the 400... and so on progressively until finally accumulating 10 seconds ahead of the Australian and almost 11 ahead of the third, the Italian Simona Quadarella, who he had qualified with the 7th fastest time.
The world record this time was far away. Ledecky scored a discreet 8m08s04 in the Budapest final, far from his Rio 2016 record (8m04s79).
Ledecky, 27 years old, with more or less shadows, continues to dominate the background in freestyle since she burst like a tsunami into the Palau Sant Jordi pool at the 2013 World Cup winning the same poker gold, at only 16 years old. . She currently holds the world records for the 800 free, set at the Rio Games, and the 1,500 free since 2018.
Although it is true that, with age, their domain is declining and predators appear who question their hegemony. In May she broke the world record in the 400 free, snatched by the Australian Ariarne Titmus, her great rival, who also stole the Olympic crown from her in that distance in Tokyo. When everyone expected a high duel with the rematch at stake, Titmus was absent from Budapest. "I'm not interested in the World Cup," justified the Australian. She preferred to prepare for the Commonwealth Games...
The penultimate day of swimming set a new world record, in the 4x100 freestyle relay, which was scored by the Australian mixed quartet in the final against Canada and the United States. Jack Cartwright, Kyle Chalmers, Madison Wilson and Mollie O'Callaghan – the 18-year-old sensation who took gold in the 100 free – clocked a historic 3m19.38s, shattering the established US record by just 2 hundredths in Gwangju.
Other names of the day were the Australian Laylee Mckeown, gold in the 200 backstroke, and the Hungarian Kristof Milak, gold in the 100 butterfly.