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Ledecky led from the start and inexorably stretched out the gap over her opponents to finish in eight minutes, 4.79 seconds, beating her previous mark, set earlier this year, by almost two seconds. Great Britain's Jazz Carlin won her second silver medal in 8:16.17, while Boglarka Kapas of Hungary took the bronze.
The defending Olympic champion added to her golds earlier in the week in the 200m and 400m freestyle and the 4x200m freestyle relay, plus a silver in the 4x100m relay. The only previous woman to win the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle at the same Games was the USA’s Debbie Meyer back in 1968.
“I have to wait another four years to have this moment and I just wanted to enjoy it all and put my very best swim out there,” Ledecky said after completing her Rio programme on a high.
She revealed that Meyer had sent her a video message of support via her mother before the race. “I try not to think about the history of it much, but just to be mentioned in the same sentence as her is incredible,” she added.
Singapore’s Joseph Schooling became an international sporting sensation overnight, when he condemned the greatest ever Olympian, Michael Phelps, to a rare defeat in the men’s 100m butterfly, denying the American his 23rd gold, and winning the first one ever for his NOC.
Known at home for smashing national records and taking multiple titles in regional competitions, Schooling had held the hopes of a nation, which had only won two silvers and two bronzes since it joined the Olympic fold in 1948.
“It’s been a hard road. I've done something that no one in our country has done before. I've received a lot of support and that's phenomenal,” said Schooling.
The 21-year-old set a new Olympic record of 50.39 seconds as he beat Phelps, South Africa's Chad Le Clos and Hungary's Laszlo Cseh into a remarkable three-way dead-heat for silver.
Schooling was inspired to aim for the Olympics as a six-year-old after a dinner conversation with his grand-uncle, Lloyd Valberg, a former national high-jumper who was also Singapore's first Olympian.
“This moment is not about me, it's all about my coaches my friends my family that believed that when I was a six-year old kid that I could do it,” said the Singaporean.
Like many of his contemporaries in Rio, Schooling grew up idolising Phelps, he keeps an old photo of himself as a bespectacled teenager with the American that was taken at a meeting in Singapore after the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I'm excited just to see how much faster he goes,” said Phelps of Schooling. “It's up to him where he wants to take it. As big as he wants to dream, as hard as he wants to work, to do whatever is in his head.”
Anthony Ervin of the USA reclaimed the mantle of fastest man in the water on 12 August by taking the Olympic 50m freestyle gold, a full 16 years after he first won it, and by the slimmest of margins.
France's Florent Manaudou, the defending champion, finished second and just 0.01 seconds behind the 35-year-old veteran, who won in 21.40 seconds. Nathan Adrian of the United States took the bronze.
Ervin won his first gold in the 50-metres freestyle at the 2000 Sydney Olympics in a dead heat with compatriot Gary Hall Jr, before leaving the sport to pursue a love of rock music.
With his arms cloaked in tattoos, Ervin -- now the oldest man on the US swimming team - returned to claim a second titleAugust by the narrowest of margins, edging out defending champion Florent Manaudou of France, by 0.01 seconds.
Ervin - now the oldest man on the US swimming team - showed no signs of resting on his laurels. Moments after his victory, he said he intended to make the USA team for the 2020 Tokyo Games.
“I'm going try to make the team, of course,” he said. “I like being in an environment where I can try to swim to the best of my potential and I don't think that my age should limit me with that. It's been an incredible journey to think that after 16 years, I'm back on the podium at the Olympic games. But I credit it to the love and support of my people, my family.”
Maya DiRado completed a great night for the Americans in the pool, as she won the women's 200m backstroke, denying Hungary's Katinka Hosszu a fourth gold medal. The Hungarian took the silver, while Canada's Hilary Caldwell won bronze.
The American reeled in Hungary’s “Iron Lady” in the last 50 metres, and the pair, swimming in adjacent lanes, were neck and neck until DiRado touched first to win by six-hundredths of a second.
For DiRado, who is leaving the sport to take up a job in management consultancy, it was the perfect way to exit after a week in which she amassed two gold medals, one silver and one bronze.
“It's indescribable. Just pure joy and surprise and excitement,” she said. "That was my last race ever and I just won a gold medal.”
She also admitted that she had spent part of the day focused on preparing for her new job. “I read through how to do expense reports, which was nice to kind of take my mind off the final tonight.”
Hosszu was in reflective mood after claiming her fourth medal of the Games. “I haven't been on the podium before, and I was able to be on the podium four times and three times on top, so I don't think I could have done any better,” she said.