On Saturday, champion swimmer Katie Ledecky won her 16th gold medal in the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan. Ledecky is already a seven-time Olympic gold medalist, but this particular swim made history, because she’s now won more individual world swimming gold medals than anyone else — including Michael Phelps.
Ledecky’s record-breaking 16th individual win was in her best event, the 800-meter freestyle, with a time of 8:08.87. She beat the second-place swimmer, Li Bingjie of China, by 4.44 seconds.
She also enters the history books as the first swimmer to win six consecutive world championships in the same event. But it’s the fact that she overtook Phelps’ record that has people talking.
“It’s special,” she told CNN. “I really didn’t even know I was going to achieve that until people started telling me. It’s cool … I’m happy with that swim. I wanted it to be a little better, but I’ll take it. I’m really pleased with how the week went.”
Ledecky tied Phelps’ record on July 25 when she won her 15th gold medal at the world championships, in the 1,500 freestyle. She also took silver medals in the 400-meter freestyle and the 4-by-200-meter free relay that day.
What’s next for this superstar athlete? She’ll be going for gold at the Summer Olympics next summer, which is happening in Paris. On the Olympic gold medal count, Phelps’ record will be harder to beat: He has 23 of them, the most of anyone who’s competed. Four other Olympians (American swimmer Mark Spitz, Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina, and American runner Carl Lewis and Finnish runner Paavo Nurmi) have nine gold medals each. So, if Ledecky wins three or more gold medals, she’ll come in second place behind Phelps.
No doubt she will train hard to do it. While she was happy about Saturday’s award-winning race, she also acknowledged her drive to do even better.
“I’m just always trying to think of new ways to improve,” she told the Associated Press. “I kind of wanted to be better than I was tonight.”