Ledecky, chasing her second gold of the Games after winning the 400-meter freestyle, edged out Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom and Australia’s Emma McKeon in a thrilling race.
The 19-year-old, who finished behind Sjostrom in her semifinal heat, took the race to her opponents to finish in 1 minute 53.73 seconds.
Ledecky, who is also hoping to successfully defend the 800-meter title that she won in London at age 15, has also already helped the United States claim silver in the 4×100 meter relay.
Few would bet against her making it three golds, with the American holding the world record in the event.
“That hurt pretty badly,”
she told reporters after the race.
“It’s the closest I’ve come to throwing up at the end of a race. I was just glad to get my hand on the wall first.”
“It was a stressful race and I feel good now it’s over. I took it pretty fast and forced everyone and once I was ahead I was not going to let it out of my hands.”