Olympics 2012: Bethesda’s Katie Ledecky, 15, wins 800 free

LONDON — Katie Ledecky got good luck wishes from Missy Franklin and a high-five from Michael Phelps on her way to the pool deck for her first Olympic swimming final at 15.

Then the high school sophomore-to-be from Bethesda, Md., won her own gold medal.

Ledecky touched first in the 800-meter freestyle with a time of 8 minutes, 15.63 seconds on Friday night, beating a field that included defending Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington of Britain and 2008 bronze medalist Lotte Friis of Denmark.

“I didn’t really expect gold, but I’ll take it,” she said, smiling.

She lowered Janet Evans‘ American record of 8:16.22 set on Aug. 20, 1989 — eight years before Ledecky was born. Already the youngest swimmer on the U.S. team, Ledecky became the second-youngest American woman to win an individual gold medal.

Beth Botsford was 15 years and 62 days when she won the 100 backstroke at the 1996 Atlanta Games; Ledeckyis 15 years and 139 days.

“To break that record is really cool and really special,” she said about Evans‘ mark.

Evans tweeted out her congratulations to Ledecky after the race: “Amazing swim, so proud of her for bringing distance gold back to the US!”

Ledecky described Evans as someone she’s looked up to, having watched her races on the Internet. Evans won the 800 free at the 1988 Seoul Olympics — as a 16-year-old — and again in 1992 in Barcelona.

“They’re really neat to watch,” she said.

Ledecky is the first U.S. woman to win the event since Brooke Bennett picked up where Evans left off in winning back-to-back titles in 1996 and 2000.

“Welcome to the gold medal club,” Bennett tweeted to Ledecky. “That was incredible to watch.”

Ledecky seemingly came out of nowhere to claim a spot on the U.S. team, and she nearly took out a world record in her first Olympics. She was ahead of Adlington’s record pace (8:14.10) from the Beijing Games until the last 15 meters of a race she thoroughly dominated.

“She was absolutely amazing,” said Adlington, who settled for bronze in 8:20.32. “That time is unbelievable. She has got a bright career ahead of her.”

Mireia Belmonte Garcia of Spain took the silver in 8:18.76.

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