Ariarne Titmus breaks world record in 400 freestyle to bolster rivalry with Katie Ledecky

The sports world won’t see them face off until possibly August because Ledecky will go to the World Championships while Titmus will save her strength for the Commonwealth Games

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Swimming - Women's 800m Freestyle - Final- Tokyo Aquatics Centre - Tokyo, Japan - July 31, 2021. Ariarne Titmus of Australia reacts after winning silver REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Swimming - Women's 800m Freestyle - Final- Tokyo Aquatics Centre - Tokyo, Japan - July 31, 2021. Ariarne Titmus of Australia reacts after winning silver REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw

Ariarne Titmus has taken down one of Katie Ledecky’s world records.

Titmus, 21, posted a time of 3 minutes, 56.40 seconds in the 400-meter freestyle on the last night of the Australian swimming trials in Adelaide. She took .06 off the mark set by the American in winning the gold at the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.

Ledecky, 25, still holds the world records in the 800- and 1,500-meter freestyles.

The website SwimSwam calls the women’s 400 free “arguably the greatest rivalry in our sport right now.”

In 2019, Titmus handed Ledecky her first defeat in the event at a major international meet. She caught a slowing Ledecky on Day 1 of the World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea. Team officials later disclosed Ledecky had been ill since arriving in Korea.

At the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games last summer, Titmus again prevailed, coming from behind to win with a time of 3:56.69. She smashed her previous personal best from that year’s Australian trials of 3:56.90. Ledecky, who had led by nearly a body length at the halfway point, won the silver by clocking 3:57.36.

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Team USA swimming gold medalist Katie Ledecky poses as she stands on the observation deck of the Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., August 12, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Tokyo 2020 Olympic Team USA swimming gold medalist Katie Ledecky poses as she stands on the observation deck of the Empire State Building in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., August 12, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Ledecky won the 800 in Tokyo, defeating Titmus, and added another gold in the 1,500, a race that Titmus did not swim.

After her record-setting race on Sunday, Titmus was asked on Amazon Prime Video if she expected to be swimming this fast following a break in the wake of the Tokyo Olympics. “No way,” she said. “I thoroughly enjoyed my break and I came back and I took it very slow in the beginning.”

She added, “I guess if you keep surprising yourself, it keeps the sport interesting.”

In the last eight years, the only person who could break Ledecky’s records was Ledecky, who lowered her own marks 11 times at the various distances.

However, because of the crowded sports schedule, fans won’t see a head-to-head matchup between Ledecky and Titmus until possibly August at the Duel in the Pool in Sydney between Australia and the United States. While Ledecky will swim in Budapest, Hungary next month at the World Championships, Titmus has chosen to skip the worlds to concentrate on the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Swimming - Women's 800m Freestyle - Heats - Tokyo Aquatics Centre - Tokyo, Japan - July 29, 2021. Ariarne Titmus of Australia in action. REUTERS/Marko Djurica
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Swimming - Women's 800m Freestyle - Heats - Tokyo Aquatics Centre - Tokyo, Japan - July 29, 2021. Ariarne Titmus of Australia in action. REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Titmus also came close to the 200-meter freestyle world record earlier in the meet.

”It’s kind of nice now that I’m not going to be asked when I am going to break the world record,” Titmus told reporters.

She said of Ledecky, who won her first Olympic gold medal in 2012, “I can’t put myself up next to her. What she has done for female swimming has been insane. She has been at this level for 10 years. To be in the conversation with her — I feel completely honored. And I hope now this will keep the battle going and give her some drive.”

Australian gold medalist Grant Hackett, who was doing commentary for the meet, said after the 400, “3:56.40! Ledecky, hello!”

Titmus is the first Australian to hold the world record in the event since Tracy Wickham, who was the fastest at that distance from 1978-87.

Like Ledecky does in her races at U.S. trials, Titmus outclassed the field in her country’s qualifying meet. Lani Pallister was second in 4:02.21.

Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Swimming - Women's 200m Freestyle - Medal Ceremony - Tokyo Aquatics Centre - Tokyo, Japan - July 28, 2021. Ariarne Titmus of Australia poses with the gold medal REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel
Tokyo 2020 Olympics - Swimming - Women's 200m Freestyle - Medal Ceremony - Tokyo Aquatics Centre - Tokyo, Japan - July 28, 2021. Ariarne Titmus of Australia poses with the gold medal REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel

Titmus now has three out of the four fastest times in the event. While she defeated Ledecky in Tokyo by swimming a stronger second half, the opposite was true in Adelaide. She flipped in 1:56.99 at 200 meters, finishing the back half in 1:59.41.

Titmus also holds the short course world record in the 400 of 3:53.92, which she set in 2018 at the short course world championships. Ledecky was not in that race.

The world record was the second set at the Australian Trials. Zac Stubblety-Cook broke the men’s 200-meter breaststroke world record earlier in the meet to become the first man under 2:06 with a time of 2:05.95.