FUKUOKA, Japan, — Katie Ledecky eased to her 20th gold medal overall at the World Aquatics Championships, powering to a fifth women’s 1,500-meter freestyle title after Matthew Richards led a British 1-2 in the men’s 200-meter freestyle on Tuesday.
Ledecky, 26, a seven-time Olympic champion from the U.S., went into the race as the firm favorite, going more than 13 seconds quicker than Italy’s Simona Quadarella — the next best — in the heats. Ledecky was under her world-record time after a blistering start to the final.
But her pace dropped slightly after she took a huge lead, and she touched the pad in 15 minutes, 26.27 seconds to finish 17.04 seconds faster than Quadarella, who settled for silver while China’s Li Bingjie took bronze.
It was the perfect response for Ledecky, who was dethroned and left disappointed by the record-breaking Ariarne Titmus in Sunday’s 400-meter freestyle event.
“I feel good,” Ledecky said. “It hurt a lot, but I’m really happy with the outcome. I’m just having a lot of fun this week.
“It’s just a lot of hard work and really great people around me — my coaches since I started swimming since I was 6, and my really great teammates.”
Earlier, Richards finished strongly to bag the gold ahead of compatriot Tom Dean in his freestyle event with a solid time of 1 minute, 44.30 seconds.
“I’m pretty tired to be honest. I’m over the moon; it was a hell of a race,” Richards said. “I knew going into the race it was one of the most stacked 200 freestyle fields for a long time. It was amazing to come away with a one-two for Britain.
“I could see all those boys well coming into the finish, really happy to get that done and hopefully the first of many.”
Olympic champion Dean finished 0.02 seconds behind to take silver, and Hwang Sun-woo of South Korea took the bronze, while 2022 world champion David Popovici of Romania missed out on a podium spot.
Kaylee McKeown, Australia’s triple Olympic gold medalist, endured a nightmare after being disqualified from the women’s 200-meter individual medley, but the 22-year-old made up for that disappointment in the 100-meter backstroke.
She charged to victory in the event in 57.53 seconds to edge out 2022 world champion Regan Smith of the United States by 0.25 seconds and Katharine Berkoff by 0.72 seconds.
McKeown did not get close to the pace that earned her the world record of 57.45 seconds at the 2021 Australian Olympic trials but shifted gears after finding herself behind Smith following the turn to come home in style.
Italy’s Thomas Ceccon was unable aim to add another gold to his collection after winning the men’s 50-meter butterfly title Monday, as American Ryan Murphy snatched his 100-meter backstroke crown to raise the roof off the Marine Messe Fukuoka Hall.
Murphy clocked 52.22 with Ceccon 0.05 seconds behind. Hunter Armstrong capped off a good day for the U.S. by taking bronze.
World-record holder Lilly King faces a tough challenge in the women’s 100-meter breaststroke final that concludes the third day’s action, with the American second overall after the semifinals which fellow 26-year-old Ruta Meilutyte dominated.
Lithuania’s Meilutyte, who won gold at the London Games 11 years ago, is targeting a first world title in the event since her 2013 success in Barcelona and went even faster during the heats breaking the 1:05 mark for the first time in a decade.