Ledecky was victorious in the 800 metre freestyle by an nearly preposterous margin, the 19-year-old lowering her own world record to eight minutes, 4.79 seconds as she claimed her fourth gold of the Games. She put her hands on her cap in disbelief when she saw he name on top of the scoreboard.
"I could feel it was faster than any other swim", Ledecky told a poolside NBC reporter after the race, adding that she was basking in the crowd's love following her final swim in Rio.
"I just wanted to push myself and see what I could do", she said.
"It's tough when you've got such an incredible athlete in your event and someone who breaks world records every time she swims", Carlin said.
On the medal stand, though, she finally broke down in tears.
Ledecky sliced 1.89 seconds off her own record in the longest event of the women's swimming program.
DiRado couldn't believe what she had done in her one and only Olympics. The men's 100-meter dash final Sunday in track and field will begin and end in the time she spent waiting. "We have a great history and I think we're making a lot of new history this week". The win gave her four gold medals - three individual - to go along with the silver she won as part of the 4x100 freestyle relay in Brazil.
Best Of The 2016 Olympics In Rio de Janeiro
They clasped hands and stepped up together. "It hasn't really sunk in yet", Schooling said. "I strongly and firmly believe that". Some 23 seconds after Ledecky touched the wall, the last of the eight finalists finally got to the end of the grueling race.
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"She was walking to the blocks with pure joy".
With 2,600 competitive meters already under her belt this week but with nothing left for which to hold anything back, Ledecky shot off the blocks like a sprinter, going 28.03 in her first 50, 57.98 in her first 100 and opening up a 2½ -length lead by the 200-meter wall while still barely kicking. It was Ledecky's last event in Rio. There will be one final opportunity for American success on the last night of competition when they can beat their performance in London four years ago, although British swimmers may prove a stubborn obstacle. In between the 35-year-old has battled addiction to drink and drugs and considered taking his own life, even selling his previous gold medal on eBay in 2004 and donating the money from the sale to the Unicef tsunami relief fund. She won by almost 12 seconds. "I hit all of my goals and had so much fun". Thiam only set the 24th best time over the 200 meters and fell back to second with 3,985.
Ledecky was into her fourth answer in the "mixed zone" - where reporters ask questions of athletes from behind a metal fence - and clutching a towel to her chest against the chill when the tears started again.
Since winning the 800m at the London Olympics at only 15 years old, Ledecky has blossomed into a complete freestyle swimmer capable of dominating long-distance races, middle-distance races and longer sprints.
After winning four gold medals at these Games and looking unbeatable, Phelps ran out of steam in what was his final individual race of these Games - and maybe his career, if he sticks to his vow to retire for good.
"Hopefully we'll inspire people", Ledecky said, "30 years down the road even when somebody's breaking my records".