US swimmer Katie Ledecky won her second gold medal in Rio de Janeiro with a wrenching victory in the 200-meter freestyle on Tuesday night.
She beat the generally faster swimmer, Sarah Sjöström of Sweden, to become the fourth American woman to win three individual gold medals, counting her gold from the 2012 London Olympics, The Washington Post noted – and this wasn't even her best event.
With 25-time (and counting) medalist Michael Phelps swimming his final Olympic laps in Rio, Ms. Ledecky's performance is an exciting reminder to Americans that the show will go on for the US swim team – and it promises to be a good show.
"That was such a tough race. Everything was hurting, and I knew I wouldn't be able to see most of field on last 50, so I knew I had to just dig deep," Ledecky told the Post. "When I saw it [first place] on scoreboard, it sunk in then. I was done when I touched the wall. I gave it everything I had there, and I knew I had to."
Ledecky has another chance to swim for the gold in Wednesday night's 4x200-meter free relay and the 800-meter freestyle on Friday, her signature event.
Tuesday also gave Mr. Phelps a victory in the 200-meter freestyle, his second gold at Rio and his 20th overall, and he earned another gold for his performance on the 4x200-meter freestyle relay. It was a dramatic intersection of victory for both Ledecky, the bubbly 19-year-old often viewed as the future of the US swim team, and that of Phelps, whose previous four Olympics have become an integral part of the event's history. But Ledecky insists there is no need to wait.
"I'm kind of the present, too," the four-time Olympic medalist told NPR.
Another telling sign of the future came from the US swim trials before Rio, where favorites Natalie Coughlin, Matt Grevers, and Tyler Clary were left behind after losing to stiff competition from talented new swimmers. Even Missy Franklin wondered for a few tense moments whether she would have have an opportunity to replicate the performance.
"Right now I need to make the team in whatever way that looks like," she told the Associated Press after finishing a disappointing seventh in the 100-meter backstroke, an event that produced one of her four gold medals in London.
Although she did not qualify for the finals in the 200-meter freestyle, Ms. Franklin will swim the 200-meter backstroke on Thursday, and she will also swim in a freestyle relay.
Phelps and fellow US swimmer Ryan Lochte agreed with her assessment of the US team's competitive edge.
"You can never go in knowing that you're going to make the team, just because the US is one of the hardest countries to make the Olympic team because they're so strong in every event," Mr. Lochte told the AP.
The gold medal performances on Tuesday give American swim fans no reason to doubt that that strength will continue.