Sometimes it takes a little bit of time for history to sink in.
Even for the world's greatest athletes.
That is the case for Katie Ledecky, who captured her sixth career individual gold medal during the Tokyo Olympics when she won her signature discipline of the 800-meter freestyle. Those six individual golds are the most of any female U.S. Olympian and behind only Michael Phelps' overall record of 13.
"It's still sinking in," Ledecky told Bleacher Report. "Hearing anyone say it, it's still kind of sinking in. It was just an honor to represent Team USA at a third Olympics. To three-peat in the 800 was awesome, to be on a relay with Team USA and do as well as we did there was fun. Each of my races kind of has its own story behind it and its own memories behind it that I know I'll keep for a very long time."
There were plenty of memories to be made for one of the greatest swimmers in the sport's history, who now has 10 Olympic medals (seven golds and three silvers) to go with her 18 medals (15 golds and three silvers) at world championship events.
After all, Ledecky packed her Tokyo schedule with a silver medal in the 400-meter freestyle, a fifth-place finish in the 200-meter freestyle, a gold medal in the 1,500-meter freestyle, a silver medal in the 4x200 freestyle relay and a gold medal in the 800-meter freestyle.
Not only did she manage to win four medals in a six-day span, she did so while showing off the versatility and endurance to compete in sprint races and the grueling 1,500-meter competition.
Yet all the winning and competing on swimming's biggest stage isn't what she'll remember most about the Tokyo Games.
"Overall, I'll just remember the little moments with my teammates in between races and the days leading up to it," Ledecky said. "We spent about four or five weeks together between the Olympic trials and the Olympics just training at our training camp and at the competition. It's just fun to know everyone, and that's what I'll probably take away. I already miss my teammates only a couple days removed from them, and I know we'll stay in close touch."
Some of those little moments with her teammates came during shaving parties prior to the events.
It is only fitting, then, that Ledecky and fellow swimmer Simone Manuel are the faces of BIC Soleil Razors' "Game On" campaign that emphasizes self-confidence as a way of inspiring others.
"It's an awesome partnership, I'm really grateful for it and really grateful for the opportunity to have represented Team USA this past week," Ledecky said. "While the medals and the records are just a symbol of all the hard work and everything that I've put in the past couple years, the real goal was to represent Team USA and leave Tokyo having inspired others, and I think that's really been at the heart of my partnership with BIC and BIC Soleil razors. We want to inspire others to be confident when chasing their goals and their dreams and not be afraid to show it."
Confidence being at the center of the campaign stood out to Ledecky as well.
"It really resonates with me because I have always felt like the hard work that I put in is what gives me the confidence when I'm behind the blocks," she said. "I can think back to all the different things I've done in training to help me succeed when I dive into the pool, and I draw my confidence from that. ... I hope that anyone who was watching feels like they can set some big goals for themselves and through hard work have the confidence to achieve those goals."
She had to achieve those goals under vastly different circumstances this year as the Olympics happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Between no fans in attendance, mask-wearing, strict testing protocols and the reality that families could not travel with the athletes, there were noticeable differences between these Games and the ones in London (2012) and Rio (2016) that Ledecky previously attended.
However, she was pleasantly surprised that things didn't feel too different during the competitions thanks to the energy of her coaches and teammates.
"What was surprising to me was how similar it felt to the past Olympics," she said. "Even though we didn't have fans, I think we were all kind of nervous going into it about how that would feel and if it would be hard to get that energy from within. We have all of our teammates in the stands, so anyone who wasn't swimming that day or had already finished competing got to sit in the stands. They knew that they had to bring that extra energy and that extra noise, and it was really cool to be able to hear those distinct cheers when you're behind the block. ... I have a nickname, Decks, so to hear 'Go Decks' from my coaches or teammates and hear it so distinctly just made me smile and was something unique and different. I was surprised at how much energy we still had in the stands."
Ledecky needed some of that extra energy when competing against Australia's Ariarne Titmus.
Their showdowns were a defining feature of the swimming portion of the Olympics, as Titmus won the 200- and 400-meter freestyles while Ledecky captured the 800. Ledecky also anchored the Americans to a silver medal in the 4x200 freestyle relay, beating the bronze effort from Titmus and the Australian team.
"It was awesome to compete against her, and I knew that she would be really tough and really push me to be at my very best," Ledecky said. "I think that not just this past week but over the last several years we've been pushing each other, whether that's in competition or in training just thinking about each other and wanting to be our best on race day when we're right next to each other. I think we delivered, I think we put on a pretty good show and had some really tremendous races. I tip my hat to her on her incredible performances as well."
There figures to be future head-to-head battles as well considering Ledecky already told reporters she is planning on competing in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
For now, though, she is taking advantage of the opportunity for some well-deserved rest.
"Over these next couple of weeks I'm just taking a little bit of a breather, relaxing, being with family and friends, being with some people I haven't had the chance to spend as much time with during the pandemic and all my hard training," she said. "Just enjoying my time with them for right now, and then over the coming month, I'm sure I'm going to start getting that itch again to have those goals in mind and to be in harder training. I know that time will come, but I want to make sure I'm fully ready to get back into the swing of things and hit the ground running when it's time, so I know this recharge time is important in the short term. But long-term, I'm looking toward Paris, and that will be my next goal-setting process, looking ahead to Paris and plotting out the map from now until then."
That map may just lead to more history for the swimmer, who is now just two total medals behind Dara Torres and Jenny Thompson for the most all-time medals for an American female swimmer at the Olympics.