Katie Ledecky Smashes World Record In 800-Meter Freestyle; Michael Phelps Shares Silver

Originally published on August 13, 2016 10:34 am
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Olympic swimming wraps up tonight in Rio. Fans are still recovering from last night. Katie Ledecky, 19 years old, of Bethesda, M-D, won another gold medal. She smashed her own world record in the 800-meter freestyle, one of the most dominating performances in swim history. Michael Phelps - another day, another medal. But this one was silver. He finished in a three-way tie for second in the 100-meter butterfly. As NPR's Russell Lewis reports, the legacies of both swimmers continue to shape the sport.

RUSSELL LEWIS, BYLINE: When Katie Ledecky stepped up to the starting block to swim the 800-meter freestyle, the question wasn't whether she would win, but who would place second.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Take your marks.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

LEWIS: Ledecky won the same race at the London Olympics four years ago at the age of 15. What she did here in Rio was nothing short of amazing. She clocked in at just over eight minutes, beating her closest competitor by 12 seconds.

(CHEERING)

LEWIS: She spoke to reporters shortly afterwards as another race was underway.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATIE LEDECKY: I know I'll want to go faster. And I'll know I - I know I can set some new goals. And I know...

LEWIS: Ledecky has won four golds and a silver at the Rio Olympics, which matches Michael Phelps. Even though Phelps didn't win gold in the 100-meter butterfly, something he had done the past three Olympics, he has fueled the next generation of swimmers. Singapore's Joseph Schooling beat Phelps for his country's first-ever gold. Schooling says that wouldn't have happened had Phelps not inspired him years ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSEPH SCHOOLING: I wanted to be like him as a kid. I wanted - you know, he's so victorious. Like, I wanted to win. And I think, you know, a lot of this, like - is because of Michael. Like, he's the reason why I wanted to be a better swimmer.

LEWIS: All this week in Rio, Michael Phelps has become more reflective. At the post-race news conference, the 31-year-old said he wants to keep inspiring people like Schooling.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

MICHAEL PHELPS: Daring kids to dream - that's the only reason why I'm sitting here. I was a little kid with a dream, and it turned into a couple of medals, a pretty good couple of years of swimming. And I had a blast.

LEWIS: This is the fifth Olympics for Phelps, and he's already the most decorated Olympian of all time. He's won 27 medals, including 22 gold. He retired after the London Games in 2012 but decided to compete one more time in Rio.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PHELPS: I'm happy with how things finished. That's why I came back after '12. I didn't want to have a what-if 20 years later. And, you know, I think being able to close the door on this sport how I want to, that's why I'm happy now.

LEWIS: Still, other swimmers are encouraging him to stick around. But Phelps is clear - he's done.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

PHELPS: No more. I - this is it. I said it a bunch before, but I'm not doing it - no more. I said - I swore in London I wasn't coming back. And I'm - this is final.

LEWIS: He does have one more race, the 4x100-meter medley relay final tonight. After that, Phelps says he plans to take some time off, travel and spend time with his newborn son. Russell Lewis, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.