U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky celebrates after winning the women's 800 freestyle final Aug. 3 during the London 2012 Olympic Games.
U.S. swimmer Katie Ledecky celebrates after winning the women's 800 freestyle final Aug. 3 during the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Katie Ledecky will bring a gold medal home to Bethesda after winning the 800-meter freestyle swim race on Aug. 3 at the 2012 London Olympics. The 15-year-old, the youngest U.S. Olympian this year, attends Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda and is a parishioner at the Church of the Little Flower, also in Bethesda, where she attended elementary school.

With her Stone Ridge classmates, teachers and friends cheering her on during a viewing rally at the all-girls' Catholic high school where Ledecky is a rising sophomore, the teen swimmer touched the wall at 8 minutes 14.63 seconds, nearly breaking the world record set in 2008.

"We are so proud of her and so inspired by her. This is such a great gift to us to cheer for a living example of what a young person can achieve with great talent, determination and heart,"

said Catherine Ronan Karrels, Stone Ridge's head of school, who led the gathering in a prayer for Ledecky before her race began.

Wearing "Ledecky Team USA" T-shirts and waving American flags, more than 300 members of the Stone Ridge community, including students, alumnae, and school parents, turned out to watch Ledecky's race in an online live stream of Olympic coverage. During the race, her enthusiastic fans loudly chanted, "Katie! Katie!" or "USA! USA!"

"I'm unbelievably proud of her," said Allie Rock, a rising junior at Stone Ridge. "She's the perfect example of how hard work pays off, and she's worked so hard for this. She totally deserved this. We are so happy for her."

As Ledecky led at every turn and maintained the lead for the entire 16-lap race, her admirers roared with excitement, erupting in the wildest cheers and applause when she finished first to win the gold.

Many stayed around longer to watch Ledecky's gold medal ceremony and stand as an Olympic champion on the medal podium for the playing of the U.S. National Anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"She's so great, and we all love her," said Martha Betubiza, one of Ledecky's fellow sophomores, adding that she and her classmates hope to be part of a "Welcome home Katie Ledecky" gathering at Dulles Airport when she returns from the Olympics, which end on Aug. 12.

"She's so hard working, modest and doesn't really talk about swimming," said classmate Ella Hartsoe, describing Ledecky. "She's just so nice to everyone."

Ledecky said in a pre-Olympic interview with the Catholic Standard how much her Catholic faith means to her and how she prays the Hail Mary before every race.

She also thanked all those who have supported her along the way. "I couldn't have done any of this without everyone's support - my family, teammates, coaches, everyone at Little Flower, Stone Ridge, and my neighborhood - all cheering me on and watching. It means so much to me," she said.