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Ledecky won gold in the 200m freestyle event ahead of Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom in what was arguably the race of the Games so far. She maintained her air of invincibility, still unbeaten in an Olympic or world championship final, but only after repelling the fastest last lap from silver medallist Sjostrom in a duel that lived up to its billing as one of the most eagerly-awaited contests at Rio 2016.
Ledecky appeared to have taken control at 150m but over the last lap Sjostrom, who had also revised her own world mark in the 100m butterfly, came roaring back at the teenager, closing the gap before Ledecky stretched for the wall, feeling almost physically sick from the effort as she touched in 1 min 53.73 secs, 0.35 seconds ahead. Emma McKeon (AUS) took bronze.
Ledecky described the race as gruelling, saying she “hurt really badly” and pushed herself “to the max.” “Pretty sure that's the closest I've come to throwing up in the middle of a race,” Ledecky said. “I'm just so glad I got my hand on the wall first.” Ledecky called the 200m event “a much more stressful race” than the 400m or the 800m and later said that she was feeling strong going into the 800m heats on 11 August. She is overwhelming favourite to add the 800m title later this week, an event in which she is totally dominant, and achieve a treble at those three distances that no woman has managed since American Debbie Meyer in Mexico City in 1968.
Sjostrom was magnanimous in defeat: “It's my first international medal in the 200m freestyle and it was my best time in 200m free so I couldn't be happier. Of course, (Katie) Ledecky, she's one of a kind so it feels like a gold to me that I'm after her. I was so happy. It's a Swedish record as well and my best time. It would have been impossible for me to go faster today.”
Hosszu had, remarkably, never won an Olympic medal in three previous Games but has now won three golds in the course of four days in Rio. However, the 27-year-old had to work hard to hold off Great Britain's Siobhan-Marie O’Connor to complete the individual medley double, lowering the Olympic mark she had set in the heats.
She was elated afterwards, saying: “I'm so excited to get the gold I can't even believe it. I'm just very excited. I can't believe I have three golds.” On setting a new Olympic best time, she added: “Last year I was aiming to go faster than this and I broke the world record at the World Championships last year so I'm not surprised.”
Hosszu, the “Iron Lady” who withdrew from the 200m butterfly earlier on Tuesday to prepare for the individual medley final, is entered in one more individual event, the 200m backstroke.
She said, however, that she would now feel more relaxed going into the rest of the Games, and would not be putting any pressure on herself. “I thought really that having just one gold would be unbelievable,” she said. “Having three so far is really just a bonus. I'm not going to put that kind of pressure on me. It's going to be a lot of fun racing, knowing that I already have three.”