Australia’s Ariarne Titmus drew first blood in her Olympic showdown with American Katie Ledecky yesterday after her brilliantly timed swim secured a famous victory in the 400m freestyle at the Tokyo Games.
Olympic swimming has, of late, lacked the excitement of hyped-up, top tier big rivals going head-to-head but this encounter certainly lived up to its billing. The rivalry between the pair caught fire at the 2019 World Championships when Titmus stunned an unwell Ledecky to win the 400 freestyle title.
Yesterday’s thrilling race has set the swimming competition alight and there is much more to come with the pair set to clash again in the 200 freestyle tomorrow and then again in the 800 on Saturday.
Ledecky, a five-times Olympic gold medal winner, grabbed an early lead and held it until the 350m mark when the 20-year-old Titmus edged ahead and never looked back.
“She definitely swam a really smart race. She was really controlled up front,” the American said. “I felt smooth and strong. I looked up at 300 metres and she was right there, so I knew it would be a battle to the end. I didn’t feel like I died or really fell off. She just had a faster final 50m or 75m and got her hand to the wall first.”
Titmus, unsurprisingly, was less in a mood for such a calm analysis of the race. “I can’t believe, it. I’m trying to contain my emotions. To come here and do the job, I’m over the moon,” she gushed. “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,” she added. “In the race I tried to stay as composed as I could... and can’t believe I pulled it off.”
Hours after losing the 400m freestyle,Ledecky was back in the pool and posted the quickest time in qualifying for the 200m freestyle. Ledecky swam a time of 1:55.28 while Titmus, was fourth fastest with 1:55.88. Canada’s Penny Oleksiak was second quickest and Australian Madison Wilson third.
Meanwhile, breaststroke king Adam Peaty became the first British swimmer to successfully retain an Olympic title. Peaty, arguably the best 100m breaststroke ever, was also on fire.
After setting sub-58 second times in the heats and semi-finals, he ramped it up a notch to successfully defend his crown, powering home in 57.37, the fifth fastest of all-time. He turned in 26.73 and was never threatened with Dutchman Arno Kamminga, the only other swimmer besides peaty to ever go under 58, taking silver with Italy’s Nicolo Martinenghi third.
Meanwhile, the reign of Swedish defending champion and world record holder Sarah Sjostrom was brought to a halt in the women’s 100m butterfly by Maggie MacNeil. The Canadian world champion delivered a stunning burst of speed over the final 50m to touch in 55.59 secs, the third fastest in history to edge China’s Zhang Yufei (55.64) into second. Australia’s Emma McKeon, who helped Australia’s women smash the 4x100m relay world record and claim gold on Sunday, was third. Sjostrom finished seventh.
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