Swimming has a new rising star: 15-year-old Katie Ledecky is a Bethesda, Maryland, native and high school sophomore who just won gold in the 800-meter freestyle with a record time of 8 minutes and 15.63 seconds — barely a second faster than American Janet Evans’ 1989 record set eight years before Ledecky was even born. "To break that record is really cool and really special," Ledecky told Sports Illustrated, adding that Evans has always been a role model. "Amazing swim, so proud of her for bringing distance gold back to the US!" Evans tweeted after Ledecky’s historic win.

Ledecky, the youngest swimmer on the U.S. team, is now also the second-youngest American woman to win an individual gold — the first being Beth Botsford, who at the time of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics was 77 days younger than Ledecky. "My game plan has always been go out fast but not too fast because it'll affect me later on in the race," Ledecky revealed. "I tried to go out a little more controlled, but I just got so excited and started racing. I've been working on that back half so I was able to come home hard."

But success has also brought unwelcome speculation. Ledecky had to endure reporters’ questions about whether she was using performance-enhancing drugs, as has been rumored about Chinese Ye Shiwen, 16. "I just put in a lot of hard work this past year. Just progressively setting short-term and long-term goals. I've been dropping time progressively,” Ledecky answered. "I got really pumped up when I saw that Missy [Franklin] and Michael [Phelps] had really good swims. I was ready to scream when I saw Missy's race, but I kept it to myself and used it as extra energy," Ledecky added later.

Coach of the U.S. Olympic women’s team Terri McKeever says Ledecky is someone to keep an eye on. McKeever first saw Ledecky swim in Charlotte, North Carolina, in May. “I came home and told one of my assistants, ‘She’s going to make the Olympic team,’ ” McKeever told The Washington Post. “You could see the intangible things… Her focus is really impressive for a 15-year-old… She’s a smart swimmer. It’s not just get-in-there-and-go.”

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