Ariarne Titmus Takes Katie Ledecky’s Crown With Thunder-From-Down-Under Finish

Ariarne Titmus beat Katie Ledecky
Ariarne Titmus - all smiles after the win over Katie Ledecky but "just a swim" at the start of a long week of demands - Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

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World Swimming Championships (Ledecky vs Titmus)

Gwangju 2019

Day 1 finals

Women’s 400m freestyle

It was billed as a thriller. It surely was. And it marked the moment of doubt about Katie Ledecky and longevity. The drain of Midas was tangible in the American defending champion, who handed her crown over to Australian Ariarne Titmus 3:58.45 to 3:59.97.

The bronze gave the USA a second bite, courtesy of a 4:01.29 from Leah Smith, who fended off Hungarian Ajna Kesely by just 0.02sec.

Titmus stepped up to a Commonwealth and Australian record, Ledecky stepped down from the winner she has been since 2013, world titles in the treasury from that year, 2015 and 2017. Not 2019.

On the third 100, Titmus, whose family moved their lives and home from Tasmania to Queensland so that the talented daughter in their midst could make the best of her passion, drive, ambition and mainland weather, lifestyle, coaching and facilities, forced a hard bargain from go, lured Ledecky into a false sense of ‘job done’.

Then, she struck back like the thunder from Down Under, Dolphin past Eagle on a last lap the American simply did not have the juice for this day of first loss ever in senior waters over eight long-course laps.

Titmus, who turns 19 in September, swam a blinder. Out in 57.12 she was just 0.07sec shy of Ledecky’s world-record place from the 3:56.46 in which she claimed Olympic gold at Rio 2016.

Ledecky, on 57.66 was forced to fight back and by the half-way turn the American had drawn all-but level, Titmus, coached by Dean Boxall, leading by 0.08, at 1:57.72.

Lured by the chase, Ledecky pressed on, taking the traditional route of piling the pressure on over the third 100m. For so long, that pressure has been on self and clock, no others capable of going with her.

Here in Gwangju, a city that translates as ‘Province of Light’, the Dolphin refused to get lost in the shadows of powerful reputation, status and wash.

Into the last 100m, Ledecky led 2:57.90 to 2:58.45. It might be said that as Ledecky struck for home with a half-body advantage on Titmus, there was no-one in the building or in the wider world beyond who truly believed she could be beaten. Titmus thought otherwise.

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The fight is on, Ariarne Titmus, nearest camera, with Katie Ledecky under pressure – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Body buoyed by a strong drive off the wall and into stroke, her tempo turned up a touch, the Australian began a furious hunt of the defending champion’s position, status and crown. With 30m to go, universal doubt turned into ‘could she?’; a cry of ‘she could’ went up from Aussie media on the benches about us. As she drew level, should turned to can. Then would, as Titmus took the lead, turned to did as the clock spoke of a moment of history turning. Or at the very least an unfinished tale of towering rivalry win the way to Tokyo 2020.

Ledecky was exhausted at the end and Titmus’ wait for the American to congratulate her was not only awkward but deeply uncomfortable: there was no hug nor shake of hand. Titmus forgave her with these words in response to questions about Ledecky’s uncharacteristic lack of grace at the end of the race:

“I wanted to say well done to her, she’s a champion: I know she’ll be back she’s the greatest ever so this isn’t going to bother her; I think it’s probably going to drive her to train harder and next year there will a real battle.”

Titmus, now the second-swiftest 400m swimmer in history, emerged from a tactical typhoon of a swim to win against storm warnings:

“I feel pretty normal, it was just a swimming race. (My coach) Dean (Boxall) said to me before the race there’s three outcomes, you could swim great, you could swim bad but you’ll still wake up tomorrow so it’s all ok. There was no pressure coming into this swim meet. It seemed like there was but I just wanted to come in and fight as hard as I could, the last 50m I gave it everything so I’m pretty happy.”

She added: “I knew I’d have to take it out hard to be with her because her third 100m is still a lot better than mine. To be honest, I kind of thought to myself just hang in there but she’s going to have more and you’re not going to get her then suddenly I just felt something.”

Titmus’ victory denied Ledecky what would have been a record 4th 400m title; and what would have been a 15th gold medal for the American in world-championship waters. No shame. Her latest sub-4min effort helped take her grand total in Stars and Stripes to 32 podium honours, 27 of them golden, since her London 2012 triumph over 800m freestyle at just 15.

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Katie Ledecky – her first walk through a post-race mixed zone as second best after a 400m race in senior waters – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Even though someone is likely one-day-when to take down Ledecky’s records, the soaring standard she has already set may well make breaking the record for most world records held by a single swimmer all the tougher: Ragnhild Hveger, of Denmark, cracked the mark eight times between 1937 and 1940, World War II ensuring that she was never able to convert her dominance to the Olympic podium.

As for Ledecky’s 3:56, could Titmus be the one? Coach Boxall clearly thinks so.

Asked what mentor said to new 400m might post-win, Titmus giggled and said: “He gave me a hug. He was happy I won but not happy with the time. He just said to stay calm, that the 800 and the relay’s to come, so keep calm, the job’s not over”.

Her own take on keeping emotions in check on day 1 of an eight-day meet of many challenges:

“I’m not getting carried away. It’s still the first day of the meet and I’ve got a big job to do. I’m still very happy … this is not something that happens every day.”

Indeed not. Not to a girl from Tasmania on the edge of the world, either.

Last year going into the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games not far from her new home in the Sunshine State, Titmus spoke of the wrench that upping sticks in Tasmania had been for her and her family.

The perception that she thrived all the way from move to settling into a new life in Brisbane will be reinforced by the events of today. Below the surface, it took guts and character to see it all through.

“It was really tough,” Titmus told News Corp papers in Australia. “I wasn’t very happy for the first six months I was living here and my swimming was the only thing that was keeping me grounded.”

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Face-to-face: Katie Ledecky, far lane, and Ariarne Titmus – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

Titmus followed her coach Peter Gartrell when he left Launceston to return to Brisbane. The swimmer’s mother, Robyn, and younger sister Mia went with her, while father Steve spent six months finishing up job and arrangements for a new life that started six months later.

It was, said the swimmer, “really tough on them”.

Parents often see past that, the rule to do the best for their kids paramount – and then there was a sporting mindset to send them all on the way: Robyn is a former national level sprinter, Steve, a former cricketer. They understood the demands of a fiercely competitive world of sport.

And, As Steve Titmus out it in the Courier Mail:

“The things in life you regret are not the things that you did but the things you didn’t do. We knew we had to move and we just wanted to give our children the best possible opportunity to achieve their dreams. When you’ve got somebody (Ariarne) that is so keen and you know they love it so much and it comes to having to make this big decision … when you weigh it all up, there was really no other option but to do it. We just embraced that decision and made it happen and we’re thankful that we have.”

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Ariarne Titmus, waiting for a handshake… Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

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Katie Ledecky – uncertain and unable to offer a handshake – Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

His daughter said: “I’m lucky to have parents that would do anything for me. A lot of other parents wouldn’t pack up their whole lives and leave their jobs to move to Brisbane. But they wanted to do whatever they could to help me achieve my dreams.”

Not everything went to plan, either. A revamp at Nudgee College left Gartrell out of a job. Titmus worked on with him for a while but was missing the squad environment, so Gartrell facilitated a move to St Peters Western, where Boxall was waiting.

Asked about the race tactic of going out hard, Titmus said: “I had to be there with her or in front at 200 if was to have a chance. I knew the third 100 would test me; she’s better at that part of race than me. At 350, I just thought stay with her as best you can , stay calm.”

Ledecky, done and dusted? Titmus thought not. “This doesn’t really change anything. It was about swimming as fast as I could. The Olympics are next year. Katie’s a true champion and through something like this I guess every girl that trains for middle distance training has her as a target. We’re going into Olympic year and I’m sure she’ll be back…”.

Had she watched Ledecky win the London 2012 gold in the 800m on television as a young girl?

“I actually didn’t. I only watched Michael Phelps back then. I was 11 when London was on and I didn’t watch that race.”

In 2020, she intends to be in that race – as a golden shot.

The range of the finals 2013-2019:

  • 3:58.76 – 4:08.60 Gwangju 2019
  • 3:58.34 – 4:07.59 Budapest 2017
  • 3:59.82 – 4:08.13 Kazan 2015
  • 3:59.13 – 4:08.22 Barcelona 2013

54 comments

  1. Jan Gert Notenbomer

    Very good, but shame on Katie for not gratulating her…

  2. Brendan Micallef

    Jake Hodgetts they’ve stolen the line from Chataqua’s win in Hong Kong!

  3. Vanessa Essam

    Was a bloody awesome swim!

  4. Adele Kate

    Heather Butler

  5. Paul Griffin

    Superb swim. It’s a slight shock but not as big as some are saying. Ledecky’s times have been a good bit off her Rio form since 2016. When was the last time she did a sub 3:58? That’s corresponded with Titmus’ huge improvement who I can see only going quicker again leading up to the Olympics. Ledecky will still win easily in 800m and 1500m, but the 200m will be interesting after seeing today. That will be even tougher for her than this race where Titmus will be a big fav again.

    • Dave Hoover

      Titmus really didn’t have a massive improvement. She lowered her previous best just over a 1/2 second.

    • Paul Griffin

      It’s over the last two years I’m referring to and her progression over that period. Her improvement in her times has been a lot more than that and taking that into account and Ledecky failing to go under 3:58 in that period, it’s not really the massive shock that some are saying. You could see Titmus going faster than her previous 3:59. She was disappointed even at getting that time in the Aussie Nationals. The question going forward is can Ledecky can get down once again to those times (sub 3:58). I wouldn’t be so sure now.

  6. Kerry Gleeson

    Congratulations to Arianne- simply amazing swim!!

  7. Mickey McNeil

    Wickedly Awesome Swim Race

  8. avatar
    Bob Hopkins

    Katie kicked too much and was tired at the end of the race. She usually does a one beat kick (down kick with left leg during left arm pull and no kick with right leg during right arm pull) to save energy during most of her long races (400 and above). Because Titmus took the lead early, Katie abandoned her one beat kick to stay with her and was exhausted by end end of the race.

  9. Patsy Patterson Martin

    We are just warming up to next years Olympics. But , a great race.

    • Sally O

      Patsy Patterson Martin come on now,she was completely run down.

  10. Danette Dorsey-Brady

    Tells alot about the character of a person on how they handle defeat as well as victory. I am disappointed in Katie, she should have congratulated her and the used it to motivated her later. Between our USA soccer team and now Katie I am really embarrassed by our female athletes behaviors.

    • Erlend Alstad

      Danette Dorsey-Brady your female soccer team should make anyone proud.

  11. Paul Anthony

    I like Craig’s writing style

  12. Felicity Cook

    CONGRATS Ariarne 🥇🇦🇺

  13. Dave Hoover

    Titus definitetly took it with a brilliant last 50. But Ledecky didn’t even make a best time for the year in that swim. Her first 400 in her 800 WR was almost as fast as what she did here today and her last 50 was the second slowest of the whole field only to the dead last swimmer. It’ll be interesting how the rest of Ledecky’s swims go with that uninspiring start.

  14. Brett Davies

    I think that Ledecky’s star is falling .I am not surprised at all by her loss here. Since Rio she has not managed to get anywere near her world record swims there.

    • Dave Hoover

      You’re right, only with the exception of her 1500m WR set last year jin the TYR Pro Swim series., which is compatible with her other records. I also wonder if she’s been swimming so hard for so long that she’s got the swimming equivalent of a baseball pitcher’s “dead arm”.

    • Brett Davies

      Dave Hoover The fact that she had nothing left in the tank at the end of that 400 and finished it totally exhausted seems to show that either she is not in great shape or her taper went badly wrong.

  15. Donna Pim

    Congratulations.

  16. Dilek Newlon

    Not surprised about this at all. Ledecky has not been swimming near her best times for a while now. And her last 50 was pretty disappointing. She completely ran out of gas.

  17. Sharon Brian

    Awesome swim by Ariarne 👏

    • Sally O

      Mary Luksic Bissell she was totally beaten she dropped her bundle.

  18. Marco Foelske

    #Titmus had a great swim, I am disappointed about Katie not congratulating Ariarne. During podium ceremony Ladecky wasn’t graceful or respectful to Titmus. True winners show respect and not such behavior, but Katie done the same when she lost the 200 Free two years ago!

  19. Nic Agius

    Bethany Agius

  20. Karen Guttridge

    Well done congratulations 💚💛

  21. Sara Stacy

    Elizabeth Taylor

  22. avatar
    DK

    Did anyone else notice the uncharacteristic turns from Ledecky? Something seemed off. But huge props to Titmus with a blazing last 50 for the win! And one bad meet for ledecky is not telling of anything. Had she gone a sub 4:05 or something, then maybe….

  23. Ken Holland

    Competition is always good….:-)

  24. Amy Monard Wasson

    It was a great race!! Surprised she got Katie, but an exciting race to watch!

  25. Jenny Cole

    Awesome job Ariadne you superstar x

  26. avatar

    Who proofreads your copy? This is an insult to a fine swim!

  27. Scott Tummins

    Whoever wrote this article should never write again. I was attempting to get the facts and felt like I was reading something about the gods descending from Olympus… wtf.

  28. avatar

    Katie Ledecky is a total embarrassment to the United States of America. She needs to grow up and get over herself. She calls her self a professional swimmer yet she acts like a toddler. I am so embarrassed that she did not congratulate Ms. Titmus on her victory in the race. I have suddenly become an Australian swimming fan. A true champion is gracious, respectful and kind. She expects her competitors to respect her when she wins, yet she refuses to acknowledge their accomplishments. Very sad, very sad!

  29. Dee Carr

    What a swim! Congratulations Ariarne

  30. Trish Fox

    Congrats Ariarne. Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi. 👏👏🏊‍♀️🏊‍♀️🎖

  31. Bernadette Walker

    Where is the live feed? How can I watch the championships?

  32. Sue Mcmahon

    Why isnt swimming telivised?

  33. Gab Holmes

    Amazing .. congrats

  34. avatar
    IHB

    Men 800 fr
    – Mykhailo Romanchuk
    – Florian Wellbrock
    – Gabriele Detti
    – Sun Yang

    Women 200 fr
    – Ariarne Titmus
    – Taylor Ruck
    – Emma McKeon
    – Sarah Sjoestroem

    Men 200 fly
    – Kristif Milak
    – Tamas Kenderesi
    – Daiya Seto
    – Chad le Clos

    Men 50 br
    – Adam Peaty
    – Felipe Lima
    – Joao Gomes
    – Fabio Scozzoli

  35. avatar
    IHB

    Mixed 4×100 medley

    AUS
    – Mitchell Larkin
    – Matthew Wilson
    – Emma McKeon
    – Cate Campbell

    US
    – Ryan Murphy
    – Andrew Wilson
    – Kelsi Dahlia
    – Simone Manuel

    GBR
    – Luke Greenbank
    – Adam Peaty
    – Alys Thomas
    – Freya Anderson

    RUS
    – Evgeny Rylov
    – Anton Chupkov
    – Svetlana Chimrova
    – Mariia Kameneva