Summer McIntosh was 3 years old when Katie Ledecky last lost an 800-meter freestyle race. More than 13 years later, the Canadian teenage phenom snapped Ledecky’s winning streak by clocking 8:11.39 at a meet in Orlando, Fla., on Thursday.
McIntosh, who broke the Canadian national record by more than eight seconds, was nearly six seconds faster than Ledecky on Thursday. The performance also makes McIntosh, 17, the second-fastest woman of all time behind Ledecky, who still owns the 16 fastest times in history at the distance. Entering Thursday, Ledecky owned the 29 fastest times of all time in the 800m free.
The fireworks produced at the relatively unheralded Florida meet could be a preview of an all-time Olympic showdown this summer. In Paris, Ledecky will go for an unprecedented fourth consecutive gold medal in the middle-distance event. In 2016, she set the world record in the race with a time of 8:04.79.
With Thursday’s result, McIntosh — who missed the 800m final in at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo — may be more inclined to give the race another go at the 2024 Olympics. McIntosh’s time Thursday night would have beaten Ledecky’s gold medal-winning effort in Tokyo.
McIntosh first stepped into the international spotlight in Tokyo, finishing fourth in the 400m freestyle at 14 years old. In April 2023, she set two world records in a single week, in the 400m freestyle and 400m individual medley.
A few months later at the 2023 World Championships, Ledecky topped McIntosh in the 4oom freestyle, but finished second to Australia’s Ariarne Titmus, who set a new world record in the race. Titmus, 23, is the reigning gold medal winner in the 200m and 400m freestyle.
Since Ledecky, 26, last lost in the 800m, at the 2010 Potomac Valley Championships, she has become one of the most decorated female athletes in American history and greatest Olympians of all time. Along with the 800m, she also holds the world record in the 1,500m freestyle and previously held the record in the 400m freestyle.
Ledecky has seven gold medals and three silver medals in three Olympics. With two gold medals in Paris, she would match Soviet gymnast Larisa Latynina for the most golds by a woman with nine.
(Photo: Tim Clayton / Corbis via Getty Images)