A courageous anchor leg from Katie Ledecky propelled the United States 4x200m freestyle relay team to silver behind China in a captivating final where all three medalists finished ahead of the world record.
Ledecky clocked 1: 53.76 in his final leg to pass heavily favored Australia and approach four tenths of a gold on Thursday.
China’s winning time of 7: 40.33 broke the previous world record – set two years ago by Australia at the 2019 Worlds – by more than a second.
The expectation before the final was that Australia would lead the field and chase their own world record in open water. The gold medal, for many, seemed won in advance.
However, it was clear from the opening game that the Australians were going to fight in earnest.
Swimmer leader Ariarne Titmus – the Olympic gold medalist in the 200m freestyle and the fastest woman in the world in 2021 – failed to take Australia in the lead after the first leg. China’s Yang Junxuan clocked 1: 54.37 to touch the first and his spring teammate Tang Muhan.
Shortly thereafter, Allison Schmitt, 31, completed her first stage for the United States in fourth place.
Australia briefly took the lead halfway through Emma McKeon’s swim in the second leg, but China retreated to take a 0.41 lead over Australia as the swimmers in the second leg anchor of each team touched the water. The United States, nearly two seconds behind, looked destined for bronze.
But Ledecky moved furiously close to the two leaders, swimming one of the most aggressive legs of his life.