TOKYO — It was the Katie and Caeleb Show, an ongoing series at swimming, as the Americans continued their medal haul at the Olympics.
Caeleb Dressel won his third gold medal of these Olympics, setting a world record in the 100-meter butterfly with a time of 49.45 seconds. He will look for his fourth gold on Sunday, the meet’s final day, in the 50-meter fly.
Katie Ledecky finished her meet at the Tokyo Games with a gold medal in one of her signature races, the women’s 800-meter freestyle, becoming the first swimmer to win the event in three consecutive Olympics.
She finished in 8:12.57, beating rival Ariarne Titmus of Australia by 1.26 seconds. And while Ledecky is finished in Tokyo, floating away with two gold medals (the other in the 1,500 free) and two silver medals, she said she is already looking forward to the 2024 Olympics in Paris, just three years away, and toying with the 2028 Games in Los Angeles.
“I’m definitely going through Paris,” Ledecky said. “And maybe beyond, as well. We’ll see.”
Her four medals in Tokyo give her 10 total across three Olympics, including seven golds and three silvers.
Ledecky, 24, already held the Olympic and world record in the event, established at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Back then, she swam it in a blistering 8:04.79, winning by nearly 12 seconds. In Rio, it was the last of her four gold medals, to go with one silver.
But this is a different Ledecky and a different time. She remained the slight favorite, and her qualifying time of 8:15.67 would have still won in Brazil five years ago. Rivals are closing in, including Katie Grimes, her 15-year-old United States teammate, an heir apparent, perhaps, in some of Ledecky’s best events.
Grimes finished fourth, behind bronze medalist Simona Quadarella of Italy.
But Titmus has become Ledecky’s primary rival at the moment. She beat Ledecky in two other individual events here, the 200 free (where Ledecky was fifth) and the 400 free (Ledecky earned silver, missing gold by 0.67 seconds).
“I’m really, really thrilled to have that kind of competition,” Ledecky said. “It’s something that fuels me, and I know it fuels her as well. And I hope that I can keep up and stay competitive here moving forward.”
Ledecky said she was “really happy” with her meet in Tokyo, which also included a rare fifth-place finish in the 200 free. She was motivated to finish with a win in the 800 free.
“I really just wanted to end on a really good note,” she said. “I just knew it would just linger with me if I ended on a bad note, so I just tried to use that as motivation to finish on the best stone possible.”
Dressel finished the 100 fly on the best possible note — a world record — but had more swimming to do. He cruised through a semifinal heat in the 50 free, and will be favored to win another gold on the meet’s last day
He then joined the American team in the final of the inaugural mixed 4×100 medley relay, swimming free in the final leg, but it was not enough to earn the United States a medal. Britain won, with a world record, followed by China and Australia.
The United States was fifth, three seconds behind the winners.
But Dressel has not lost any individual events. In the 100 fly, Dressel already held the world record (49.5 seconds, in 2019) and the Olympic record (49.71, Friday). Kristof Milak of Hungary, the gold medalist in the 200 fly, swam to Dressel’s left, and Dressel suspected that is where his closest competition would be.
He was right. Milak followed Dressel to the finish, touching in 49.68, a European record.
“What a close race — two of the fastest times in history,” Dressel said. “You don’t get that very often, so to be a part of that is really special.”
The two of them, along with Michael Phelps and Milorad Cavic, remain the only athletes to swim sub-50 seconds in the event’s history.
“That event’s only going to get faster, I’m aware of that,” Dressel said. “It’s just exciting that it took a world record to win.”
The Americans had hoped for another medal or two in the 200-meter women’s backstroke, but ended up fourth and fifth.
Kaylee McKeown of Australia won in a time of 2:04:68.
There was something missing from the event: the world-record holder, Regan Smith, who did not qualify because she finished third at the U.S. trials. It is indicative of American depth, in this event and across the sport.
The two swimmers who beat her in June — Rhyan White and Phoebe Bacon — were positioned to medal here, swimming on either side of 29-year-old Emily Seebohm of Australia, who had the fastest qualifying time.
White, 21, finished fourth. Bacon, 18, finished fifth.
(As for Smith, she finished her schedule, leaving Tokyo with a silver medal and a bronze medal.)
That left the stage clear for Dressel and Ledecky, who now exits with her legacy firmly intact, and looking to grow.