Ariarne Titmus Is Showing Things We Have Only Seen From…Katie Ledecky

Photo Courtesy: Swimming Australia/Delly Carr

By Andy Ross.

Last week at the 2018 FINA World Short Course Championships in Hangzhou, China, Australia’s Ariarne Titmus broke a world record in the 400 SCM free, the first one in her career.

There was a lot of attention on the Americans at the meet as they dominated the medal tally, winning nine of the 12 relays contested. Almost all eyes were on the Americans that the viewers seemed to miss Titmus’s feats in the pool.

Titmus started the meet with a gold in the 200 free, running down American Mallory Comerford in the process to win her first medal of the meet. She then won bronzes leading off Australia’s 4×200 free relay and anchoring their 4×100 medley relay team. She also swam the second leg on their 4×50 free relay in the morning heats.

Titmus scratched the 800 in the heats, so she did not get a chance to swim against China’s Wang Jianjiahe and Italy’s Simona Quadarella in that event. It was a bit of a head-scratcher as to why she scratched the prelims, since she had the third fastest time of 2018 in long course.

But Titmus showed this past week in China that she is the real deal. She broke her first world record and she only just turned 18 in September. Yes the record was in short course meters, a course that has not been touched by the great Katie Ledecky. But a world record should never be illegitimized.

What Titmus did last week is starting to approach Ledecky levels.


Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia Ltd.

She isn’t winning races by 5-10 seconds. She isn’t breaking world records in in-season meets. But she did swim on Australia’s 4×50 free relay and anchored their 4×100 medley relay teams in Hangzhou. Her 50 split was slower than anyone else for Australia, but her 100 split (on a stopwatch since Australia was disqualified in the final) was roughly a 52.7, which kept pace with the other swimmers in the final.

Not bad for someone who primarily swims the 400 and 800 free.

It is very rare for any distance swimmer to be able to come down to the sprint events and be competitive. Really the only person that has been able to do that has been Ledecky, who anchored the silver medal winning 4×100 free relay team at the 2016 Olympics for the United States with a 52.79 split (long course). For reference, that was only 0.07 seconds slower than the eventual gold medal winner, Penny Oleksiak’s split in the same heat.

Australia is easily the best country in the world right now at producing women’s sprint freestylers. They broke the world record earlier this year in the 4×100 free relay at the Commonwealth Games with Shayna JackBronte CampbellEmma McKeon and Cate Campbell. They also won the relay again at Pan Pacs, swapping Bronte with Emily Seebohm.

Titmus was called up to swim the anchor leg for Australia in Hangzhou in a sprint relay since they did not have any of their big guns at the meet in Hangzhou. Cate and Bronte were not there. Neither was McKeon. Neither was Jack. Seebohm was there but swam the lead-off backstroke leg. Australia was so low on freestyle talent that they did not even enter a 4×100 free relay.

Titmus was able to answer the call and do so in satisfactory fashion. Her 52.9 she did in the prelims was not anything spectacular. Cate Campbell has been two seconds faster in long course for crying out loud.

But Titmus still showed she can put on her sprinting boots and still keep up with the likes of Lia Neal and Federica Pellegrini, who both split 52s at the meet.


Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Titmus gave Ledecky perhaps the biggest scare of her career at the Pan Pacs this summer when she stayed at her feet the entire duration of the 400 free final in Japan, becoming just the third woman in history to break four minutes in that event.

Titmus got closer than anyone has been to Ledecky in an individual final internationally, finishing just 1.16 seconds behind her in the 400 free. Leah Smith was 1.67 seconds back at the 2016 Trials in the 400 free, but Smith has not been closer to Ledecky since.

Titmus has also shown she has range up to the 800 free, swimming an 8:17.07 this summer at Pan Pacs, which was third in the world behind Ledecky and Quadarella. She also has range down to the 200, swimming a 1:54.85 at the Commonwealth Games, which was tied for third in the world with Rikako Ikee, sitting behind Ledecky and Taylor Ruck.

Again, Titmus is only 18, so she still has room for improvements.

A big difference from Ledecky is that Titmus has not swum the 1500 at either the 2017 Worlds or the 2018 Pan Pacs (the women’s 1500 was not offered at the Commonwealth Games). Even though it is a new Olympic event, she has not shown interest the last couple years to race it. But with her scratching the 800 at Short Course Worlds this last week, maybe she has shifted her focus to the shorter races.

Maybe she wants to put all her eggs into the 400 because she thinks it is her best chance at taking down Ledecky. Maybe she wants to train more for the 200 since it is anyone’s game right now. Maybe she does want a spot on Australia’s 4×100 free relay team (although that might be harder than taking down Ledecky considering Australia’s depth).

But the fact of the matter is, Titmus has options, and she has shown that she can be competitive internationally from the 100 free all the way up to the 800 free, something that we have really only seen from…Katie Ledecky. It is very rare for a distance swimmer to get called up to swim a sprint relay at the international level. Ledecky has done it, and now so has Titmus.

The Australian press was giving her a lot of props for what she had done in Hangzhou. Titmus is arguably the second best swimmer — period — in the world today behind Ledecky. If she isn’t second, then she is definitely top five. Factor in Kathleen BakerSarah Sjostrom, Ruck, and others, Titmus is up there with the best of the best.

Australia does not have a rich history in the women’s distance freestyle events, despite their men dominating the 1500 at the Olympics with the likes of Grant HackettKieren Perekins and Murray Rose.

Australia has not won a gold medal in a women’s distance event (400, 800) at the Olympics since 1980 when Michelle Ford won the 400 in Moscow. They have not even won a medal in those events since 1992 when Hayley Lewis won silver in the 800 and bronze in the 400 in Barcelona.

So Titmus is becoming a huge name Down Under. “Australia’s Ledecky” is unfair to her since she is great in her own right. But it’s hard to not compare the two when Titmus is doing something we have only seen from Ledecky herself.

All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.

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4 years ago

I think the writer is forgetting Shane Gould. The only woman to hold all freestyle records from 100 to 1500 simultaneously!!!!

4 years ago
Reply to  Rich Davis

Rich Davis yep and she also swam IMs

4 years ago
Reply to  Rich Davis

Rich Davis she was my first swimming heroine! Posters everywhere when I was little!

4 years ago
Reply to  Rich Davis

Susan L. Lansbury I always wanted the T-shirt the American team wore at the 1972 Olympics. ‘All that glitters is not Gould’.
I know it was meant to psych her out, but what an amazing compliment to a 15 year old girl, that the mighty powerhouse of American swimming was scared of you.

4 years ago

Great article. An interesting side note Titmus was beaten by 16 year old Lani Pallister in the 800 at the Aussie trials. Pallister is coached by her mum and former distance swimmer Janelle Elford.