Australia’s 18-year-old distance sensation Ariarne Titmus arrived on the world stage at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju (KOR) and was 62/100ths behind world-record holder Katie Ledecky in the 400 m Freestyle with one lap left to go.
The half-a-body length lead for the Ledecky did not deter Titmus, who started closing halfway through the final lap and surged past Ledecky to win in an Australian record of 3:58.76 to Ledecky’s 3:59.97.
It was the eighth fastest-swim of all time and the fastest in the world this year, moving Titmus to no. 2 all-time.
Titmus started fast and had a small lead on Ledecky halfway through. But Ledecky roared to the lead in the third 100 m and appeared to be steadily moving toward another victory. But in the final 50 m, it was Titmus’s 29.73 finish to Ledecky’s 31.34 that made the difference.
“I feel pretty normal, it was just a swimming race,” Titmus said. “There was no pressure really coming into this race. I just wanted to fight as hard as I could – in that last 50 m I gave it everything.”
But the headline is the defeat of Ledecky, 22, who came in with the 12 fastest times in history and was World Champion in 2013-15-17. American fans in Gwangju were stunned and so was Ledecky.
“I just got to the last turn and felt like I just tightened up,” Ledecky said. “My legs were just dead. Obviously, Ariarne took advantage of that. Obviously, this stings a little, unfamiliar and different.
“My physical preparation has been great for this meet, really expected to be a lot faster than that. I knew it was going to be a tough race going in. I was nervous for it.”
Almost lost in the race for the gold was American Leah Smith, who put on her own surge in the final 100 m to pass Hungary’s Anja Kesely, 4:01.29-4:01.31 for the bronze medal, her fifth career World Championships medal.
The U.S. men swam what was essentially a world record in the 4×100 m Freestyle Relay, finishing in 3:09.06, the no. 3 performance in history and easily the fastest ever in textile suits. Only the iconic 3:08.24-3:08.32 Olympic win by the U.S. in 2008 (with Jason Lezak on anchor) over France produced faster times, but the swimmers had the advantage of the now-banned plastic suits.
The American quartet started with reigning 50 m Freestyle World Champion Caeleb Dressel (47.63), his 0.20 lead was extended by Blake Pieroni (47.49), Zach Apple (46.86 ~ yes, 46.86!) and Nathan Adrian, who timed 47.08. The U.S. was 0.91 up on Russia, which authored the eighth-fastest relay ever, in 3:09.97.
The U.S. women won silver, as expected, in the 4×100 m Free Relay to Australia, setting an American Record of 3:31.02, while the winners swam the no. 2 time ever in 3:30.21. The Australian foursome of Bronte Campbell, Brianna Throssell, Emma McKeon and Cate Campbell didn’t lead until the final leg, but Cate Campbell’s split of 51.45 was the fastest of the race and brought home the gold.
The U.S. team of Mallory Comerford, Abbey Weitziel, Kelsi Dahlia and Simone Manuel had the lead at halfway, but Penny Oleksiak brought Canada in first after 300 m. While Campbell ran away for the win, Manuel swam brilliantly – in 51.92 – to grab silver. The American Record time moves the U.S. to no. 2 on the all-time list (ahead of the Netherlands) and is the fifth-fastest relay ever. It broke the mark of the 2017 World Championships teams, which had Comerford, Dahlia (then Kelsi Worrell), Ledecky and Manuel.
China’s Yang Sun won his fourth consecutive 400 m Free title, ahead of Australia’s Mack Horton, 3:42.44-3:43.17. Sun took charge by the 200 m split and powered home for a clear win.
The first evening session has plenty of additional action in qualifying:
● Britain’s Adam Peaty set a world record of 56.88 in the 100 m Breaststroke, his ninth individual world mark and fifth in this event. He became the first person to swim the distance in under 57 seconds and now owns the top 15 times in history in the event. And all this in the semifinals!
● Dressel showed that he will be hard to beat in the 50 m Butterfly, winning his semi and leading all qualifiers in 22.57, an American Record, besting his own 22.76 mark from the 2017 Worlds semifinals in Budapest. He moves to no. 3 on the all-time list, behind only world-record holder Andriy Govorov (UKR: 22.27 ‘18) and Rafael Munoz Perez (ESP: 22.43 ‘09). Dressel was 0.20 ahead of Brazil’s Nicholas Santos in his heat; Govorov won the first semi in 22.80. American Michael Andrew was fifth overall and into the final at 22.95.
● Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu overwhelmed the field in the 200 m Medley, posting the fastest times in the heats (2:07.02, seventh-fastest of all time) and 2:07.17 in the semis (11th fastest ever).
Quite a first day, and much more to come! Ledecky and Titmus will be head-to-head again in the heats of the 200 m Free on Tuesday, and Ledecky swims the 1,500 m Free that evening, in which she is the overwhelming favorite. She and Titmus will also lock up again in the 800 m Free on Saturday. Summaries:
FINA World Aquatics Championships
Gwangju (KOR) ~ 12-28 July 2019
(Full results here)
400 m Freestyle: 1. Yang Sun (CHN), 3:42.44; 2. Mack Horton (AUS), 3:43.17; 3. Gabriele Detti (ITA), 3:43.23; 4. Danas Rapsys (LTU), 3:43.50; 5. Marco de Tullio (ITA), 3:44.86; 6. Xinjie Ji (CHN), 3:45.64; 8. Zane Grothe (USA), 3:45.78.
4×100 m Freestyle: 1. United States (Caeleb Dressel, Blake Pieroni, Zach Apple, Nathan Adrian), 3:09.06; 2. Russia (Grinev, Morozov, Kolesnikov, Rylov), 3:09.97; 3. Australia (McEvoy, Lewis, Graham, Chalmers), 3:11.22; 4. Italy, 3:11.39; 5. Great Britain, 3:11.81; 6. Brazil, 3:11.99; 7. Hungary, 3:12.85; 8. France, 3:13.34.
400 m Freestyle: 1. Ariarne Titmus (AUS), 3:58.76; 2. Katie Ledecky (USA), 3:59.97; 3. Leah Smith (USA), 4:01.29; 4. Ajna Kesely (HUN), 4:01.31; 5. Jianjiahe Wang (CHN), 4:03.67; 6. Boglarka Kapas (HUN), 4:05.36; 7. Anna Egorova (RUS), 4:06.16; 8. Veronika Andrusenko (RUS), 4:08.60.
4×100 m Freestyle: 1. Australia (Bronte Campbell, Throssell, McKeon, Cate Campbell), 3:30.21; 2. United States (Mallory Comerford, Abbey Weitzeil, Kelsi Dahlia, Simone Manuel), 3:31.02; 3. Canada (Sanchez, Ruck, Oleksiak, MacNeil), 3:31.78; 4. Netherlands, 3:35.32; 5. China, 3:35.83; 6. Sweden, 3:36.33; 7. Japan, 3:36.79; 8. Germany, 3:39.07.