Column: Ariarne Titmus Takes Next Step By Eclipsing Remarkable World Record

ariarne titmus
Ariarne Titmus after breaking the world record in the women’s 400 freestyle -- Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

Ariarne Titmus Takes Next Step By Eclipsing Remarkable World Record

When Katie Ledecky set the world record of 3:56.46 in the women’s 400 freestyle, it was the kind of record that seemed unreachable. Ledecky had already lapped the world in the eight-length race, and here she was swimming a best time by two seconds while winning Olympic gold by almost five. It was a magical swim, one of the signature moments in Olympic history.

At the time, the record was 2.69 seconds faster than any other swimmer in history, with Federica Pellegrini the only other woman to ever break the 4:00-barrier. In a textile suit, Ledecky was more than four seconds ahead of any other female (Leah Smith).

And now that record is gone, surpassed by six hundredths Sunday in South Australia as Ariarne Titmus continued to showcase her sublime talent in the middle-distance events. Two days after she finished just three tenths off the world record in the 200 free, Titmus won the 400 free at Australia’s national championships in 3:56.40, six hundredths ahead of the time Ledecky swam on her way to gold at the Rio Olympics. Titmus had swum in the 3:56-range twice previously, first in qualifying for the Olympics last year, and then when she defeated Ledecky in an epic duel in the 400 free final in Tokyo.

Following a 3:56.69 in the Olympic final, just 0.21 off the record, Titmus achieved the last few hundredths in her performance Sunday, but this one was even more impressive given that Titmus was racing practically alone with no one to pace off of, her closest competition nearly six seconds adrift (and that’s with Lani Pallister swimming a brilliant time of 4:02.21 for second place).

Ariarne Titmus

Ariarne Titmus — Photo Courtesy: Delly Carr/Swimming Australia

The idea of Titmus eventually breaking the world record was not at all far-fetched. She is only 21 years old, and her improvement track has been sharp going back to her international debut in 2017. But not this soon, not after a two-month break from training following the Olympics that Titmus said was the longest time she had ever spent out of the water.

But that extended layoff refreshed Titmus, and it allowed her to attack the post-Olympic season with a fervor rarely seen from newly-crowned Olympic champions. She has felt no complacency since returning to training. In fact, it has been quite the contrary.

“The biggest thing that (coach) Dean (Boxall) said to me since the Olympics is that you have this freedom now and the monkey’s off your back,” Titmus said in a broadcast interview after the race. “I have just loved swimming this last six months, going to training with no pressure, just enjoying the sport, something that is underrated just how important that is.”

That mentality has worked wonders for Titmus, and after she finished the last Olympic cycle on top, she has started the buildup to the 2024 Olympics in essentially perfect fashion with no drop-off. Sure, it will be a slight bummer to miss Titmus racing at the World Championships next month in Budapest, but when she puts up another pair of sensational efforts over 200 and 400 meters at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, there will be no doubt as to who the best middle-distance freestyler in the world is. 200 free Olympic silver medalist Siobhan Haughey, rising young Canadian Summer McIntosh and even Ledecky are the chasers.

In addition to her 200 and 400 expertise, Titmus actually finished fifth in the 100 free at Australia’s Trials, so it’s not out of the question that she finds herself on relay duty in the future for the sprint. She skipped the 800 free this week, but she became the second-fastest woman in history while earning silver in the event in Tokyo, just 1.26 seconds behind Ledecky. Given Titmus’ current track of performance, she could be a threat to Ledecky in the 16-lapper as the American attempts to become the first female swimmer to win four consecutive Olympic gold medals in one event.

But the focus this week is on Titmus’ remarkable, groundbreaking world record. She deserves every bit of praise for conquering a mark seen not too long ago as practically invulnerable.

That world record was the first that Titmus has set in long course (she previously broke the short course world record in the 400 free in 2018), but we can assume that it’s only a matter of time before she lowers her own new standard and before she finally cracks Pellegrini’s 13-year-old record in the 200 free. Every time Titmus gets in the water at a major domestic or international competition, we will have to be on world-record watch — just like with Ledecky for so many years.

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