By Sharon Robb
TOKYO, Japan, July 25, 2021–In a thrilling showdown, Ariarne Titmus of Australia knocked off defending champion and world record holder Katie Ledecky Sunday at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
Swimming side-by-side in the 400-meter freestyle, the Tasmanian-born Titmus, 20, closed the gap to 2/10ths of a second at the 300-meter mark and pulled ahead in the final 50 meters to win in 3:56.69, an Oceanic women’s record and second fastest time in history.
Titmus, ranked No. 1 in the world, handed Ledecky, 24, her first individual Olympic loss. The American finished in 3:57.36, her second fastest career time. China’s Bingjie Li was third in an Asian record 4:01.88.
“I can’t believe it, I’m trying to contain my emotions,” Titmus said. “This past year I don’t know whether it’s gone fast or slow, but to get here was a relief. To come here and do the job, I’m over the moon.
“I thanked her, I wouldn’t be here without her. She set this incredible standard. I’ve been trying to chase her, it’s really exciting now we have this battle going. It’s really fun to race.
“I tried to stay as composed as I could. Then just tried to stick to my race plan. I can’t believe I pulled it off.”
The Ledecky-Titmus matchup was one of the most anticipated and talked-about Olympic races. Titmus had defeated Ledecky at the 2019 World Championships in South Korea in the 400 freestyle but Ledecky had a severe stomach virus. In June, Titmus had flirted with Ledecky’s world record of 3:56.46 when she went 3:56.90 at her country’s Olympic trials.
Titmus won the first individual gold medal for Australia since Stephanie Rice in 2008.
“I looked at the 300 and saw she was right there,” Ledecky said. “I knew it would be a fight to the finish. I can’t be disappointed. I did my best, I fought tooth and nail. She said she couldn’t have done it without me and I think she pushed me.”
Titmus’ coach Dean Boxall was emotional and animated after watching his swimmer touch first, running and gyrating in the stands.
It ended Ledecky’s quest to win the first of five possible gold medals. The two will meet again in the 200 and 800 freestyles and 4×200 freestyle relay.
In the men’s 4×100-meter freestyle relay final, anchor leg Zach Apple pulled away with a 46.6 split for a 9/10ths of a second lead to clinch the win for the U.S. in 3:08.97. Italy was second in 3:10.11 and Australia third in 3:10.22.
Floridian Caeleb Dressel led off in 47.2 followed by Blake Pieroni in 47.5 and Bowen Becker in 47.4 who led by 2/10ths after the third leg.
“We knew there was a huge target on our back,” said Dressel, a Clay High School, Bolles Club and Florida alum. “I’d say we dominated that pretty well. We’re never going to doubt ourselves, that’s not how the U.S. team works. We had a couple people rule us out in that event. We’re never going to take that so it feels nice to dominate and have it back on home soil.”
The U.S. men have won two of the last three Olympic 400 relays.
Local swimmers results:
Azura’s Celina Marquez of El Salvador, fifth in her heat of the 100-meter backstroke in 1:03.75.
Aruba’s Mikel Schreuders, an NSU University School/Pine Crest Club alum, second in his heat of the 200-meter freestyle in 1:49.43.
Azura’s Joaquin Vargas of Peru, third in his heat of the 200-meter freestyle in 1:49.93.
In other championship medal finals:
Women’s 100-meter butterfly:
Canadian Maggie MacNeil, in the outside lane, swam the second fastest time in history to win the gold medal in 55.59 ahead of China’s Yufei Zhang in 55.64 and Aussie Emma McKeon in 55.72. American 18-year-old Stanford-commit Torri Huske o f Arlington, Va. missed the podium by 1/100ths in 55.73. MacNeil, World and Pan Pac champion who swims at University of Michigan, is the first Canadian to win the gold medal in the event. Swimming without her contact lenses, it took her a while to focus on the scoreboard and realize she was listed first. World and Olympic record holder Sarah Sjoestroem of Sweden, who bounced back from a shattered elbow sustained slipping on ice, was seventh in 56.91.
Men’s 100-meter breaststroke: Defending champion, world record holder and heavy favorite Adam Peaty of Great Britain won back-to-back Olympic gold in 57.37 ahead of Arno Kamminga of the Netherlands in 58.00, the first medal in the event for his country and Nicolo Martinenghi of Italy in 58.33. American medal favorite Michael Andrew finished out of the medals placing fourth in 58.84.
100-meter butterfly: 1. Maggie MacNeil, CAN 55.59, 2. Yufei Zhang, CHINA 55.64, 3. Emma McKeon, AUS 55.72.
400-meter freestyle: 1. Ariarne Titmus, AUS 3:56.69, 2. Katie Ledecky, US 3:57.36, 3. Bingjie Li, CHINA 4:01.08.
100-meter breaststroke: 1. Adam Peaty, GBR 57.37, 2. Arno Kamminga, Netherlands 58.00, 3. Nicolo Martinenghi, ITA 58.33.
4×100-meter freestyle relay: 1. United States 3:08.97, 2. Italy 3:10.11, 3. Australia 3:10.22.
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com