W400Fr: Ariarne Titmus The Terminator Pays Plaudits To Pioneer Pacesetter Katie Ledecky At The Changing of the Guard
Every champion knows it … there’ll be a day when victory proves as elusive as it written up as inevitable and this day was the day Katie Ledecky was forced got give up the Olympic 400m freestyle crown to Australian Ariarne Titmus.
On a day when Adam Peaty powered his way into the history book as the first British swimmer ever to retain an Olympic swimming title and Maggie Mac Neil became the first Canadian ever to lift the women’s 100m butterfly crown, Titmus “The Terminator” became the first Australian to claim the 400m freestyle crown since Shane Gould.
Often mentioned in the same breath as the 1972 winner of what remains a record five solo medals in the pool at one Games – and three of them were gold for Gould, in World-record times – Ledecky had two silver linings to take out of the race: her medal and the World record of 3:56.46, which lived to fight another day, as did the swimmer herself.
Titmus swam a smart race, as Ledecky acknowledged graciously after the fight: the Australian let the American do all the slog up front but did not let the gap widen to more than the sum of what might be clawed back.
As Titmus noted: “Honestly, at the 200 meters, I was a bit worried, but I didn’t come to the Olympic Games unprepared. I had to trust myself and stay as composed as I could.”
For 14 of the 16 lengths, the race was in Ledecky’s grasp but by the 300m mark it was clear that Titmus was battling back into contention with intent to do the damage she came to inflict. It was only at the last turn that the lead changed hands but over the last 100m, the world got the epic tussle hoped for, one that spoke volumes about the excellence of both athletes.
As Titmus took the lead by a slither at the last turn, an athlete who had never lost an international 400m race, all the way back to the first year of her World-title winning ways in 2013, might have caved in. Not the Rio 2016 gold medallist over 200, 400 and 800m on a day when Ledecky not only had the 400m final on her plate in Tokyo but the evening heats of the 200 and 1500m freestyle, too. Thanks NBC.
As most Japanese people in the host countries went about their working lives oblivious to the great duel unfolding in the pool, American audiences got the prime-time privilege of watching not just one great athlete but two for the price of one.
- 57.74; 1:58.10; 2:58.27; 3:28.02 – 3:56.69 Titmus Commonwealth and Oceania record
- 57.67; 1:57.44; 2:58.11; 3:28.24 – 3:57.36 Ledecky
Ledecky and the world record marked the only sub-4minute 400m swim in Olympic waters before Tokyo. Now the count is three, with Titmus’ effort the second fastest ever, Ledecky’s the fourth-fastest ever.
There was no-one else in it, the battle for bronze going to China’s Li Bingjie in an Asian record of 4:01.08, inside the standard she’d set in heats. Watch, too, for the 14-year0old in fourth: Summer McIntosh set a Canadian record of 4:02.42.
What a race, what a testament to both athletes and those who work and have worked with them. Titmus’ coach Dean Boxall was up in the strands going ballistic as Titmus delivered the third gold at these Games for his personal charges after relay girls Meg Harris and Mollie O’Callaghan.
Olympic swimming is best served gladiatorial. And that’s what we got from Titmus and Ledecky. The unavoidable tragedy was: no crowd. This was a day, with Peaty, Mac Neil, the grand duel and then the USA men’s 4x100m free victory that would have tested the rafters. A polite ripple and the appreciation of everyone there privileged enough to remember it live, for real (never, ever the same remotely through a screen) is what they got.
There are two more showdowns to come in the Ledecky Vs Titmus show: the 200m and 800m freestyle, the heats of the shorter race today in an unsatisfactory scheduling events that places the athlete at the back of the queue. No rights are worth that. Athletes get on with it, of course.
Ledecky clocked 1:55.28 in her heat a touch ahead of 100m Olympic champion of 2016 Penny Oleksiak, on 1:55.38, and Aussie Madison Wilson, 1:55.87. They would top the qualifiers, while Titmus took the last heat in 1:55.88. In fifth was Oleksiak’s teammate young McIntosh, on 1:56.11. Li was not quite as well recovered and finished 20th in 1:59.03.
Terminator Titmus emerged from her 400m triumph to pay plaudits to Ledecky:
“It’s the biggest thing you can pull off in your career so I’m over the moon. I can’t believe it, I’m trying to contain my emotions. I thanked her [Ledecky], I wouldn’t be here without her. She set this incredible standard. All credit to her for the swimmer she is. In the race I tried to stay as composed as I could and I can’t believe I pulled it off.”Ariarne Titmus – by Patrick B. Kraemer
Ledecky’s first silver in any major freestyle race over 400m meant this: in the USA Vs AUS duel, its a snap with 2 gold for each nation before USA takes the edge with 3 silvers to 1, both countries with 3 bronzes each.
“I looked up at 300 meters and she was right there so I knew it would be a battle to the end,” Ledecky said. “I didn’t feel like I died or really fell off. She just had a faster final 50 meters or 75 meters and got her hand to the wall first.”
With five Olympic gold medals and 15 world championship titles, Ledecky, 24, remains the most decorated female swimmer of all-time. On Titmus, she said: “We’re really friendly and she said she couldn’t have done it without me. I think it’s really great for the sport. It was a fast field overall.”