Olympics: Katie Ledecky, Ariarne Titmus Lined Up for 400 Free Duel

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Katie Ledecky (USA) after the women's 400m freestyle heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro -- USA Today Sports

Olympics: Katie Ledecky, Ariarne Titmus Lined Up for 400 Free Duel

The stage for the first battle between Katie Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus is set.

Both women won their heats in the 400 freestyle preliminaries at the Tokyo Olympics Sunday to earn spots in the top three in the final for Monday morning.

Ledecky was authoritative but composed in pulling away from the third heat of four to win in 4:00.45. She wasn’t able to shed China’s Li Bingjie, who is the second seed in 4:01.57.

“It is always good to get the first one under the belt,” Ledecky said. “I felt really confident and relaxed coming in to it. I’m definitely feeling the energy from our team. We had a really great session this morning, so I’m trying to feed off of that and get my meet rolling.”

Jul 25, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Ariarne Titmus (AUS) in the women's 400m freestyle heats during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Ariarne Titmus; Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher

In the second heat, Titmus had a quick first 300 hundred and appeared to pack it in after that, with the job done. The top seed entering the race clocked in at 4:01.66.

“I felt really good, probably the most relaxed I’ve actually felt for a long time,” Titmus said. “At nationals in April I was way more nervous than this because it was my first race since my (shoulder) injury and I didn’t really know what to expect. At trials it’s a nerve-racking situation, if I was going to make the team. So I was super nervous there but tonight I was relaxed.”

Ledecky is the reigning champion in the women’s 200, 400 and 800 free, and she adds her dominance in the 1,500 to the program for the first time. Titmus outdueled Ledecky in the 400 free at Worlds last year, though Ledecky did win the 800 while under the weather. They will lock horns in the 200, 400 and 800 in Tokyo.

Titmus had a shadow she couldn’t dislodge, as the youth movement swamps the distance ranks. In this case, it was New Zealand’s Erika Fairweather, the pesky 17-year-old in lane eight. She went out strong, rallied mid-race and closed fast in 4:02.28, lopping more than four seconds off her best time.

The other young star in waiting is Summer McIntosh, who stuck with Ledecky early but not late. She ended up fifth in 4:02.72. Bingjie, Fairweather and McIntosh all set national records.

The youth movement is real in the women’s distance ranks. Ledecky, who is only 24, is the oldest swimmer in the heat. Second-oldest is Paige Madden, who is in the final in seventh place after dropping a second from her Trials time to 4:03.98. But the other six women were all born after 2000, with McIntosh, who will turn 15 later this month, the obvious poster child.

Women’s 400 freestyle

  • World record: Katie Ledecky, United States, 3:56.46 (2016)
  • Olympic record: Katie Ledecky, United States, 3:56.46 (2016)
  1. Katie Ledecky, United States, 4:00.45
  2. Li Bingjie, China, 4:01.57
  3. Ariarne Titmus, Australia, 4:01.66
  4. Erika Fairweather, New Zealand, 4:02.28
  5. Summer McIntosh, Canada, 4:02.72
  6. Isabel Gose, Germany, 4:03.21
  7. Paige Madden, United States, 4:03.98
  8. Tang Muhan, China, 4:04.07