Summer McIntosh vs. Ariarne Titmus vs. Katie Ledecky — Who Will Win at Worlds?

summer-mcintosh-
Summer McIntosh -- Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Summer McIntosh vs. Ariarne Titmus vs. Katie Ledecky — Who Will Win at Worlds?

Outside of an Olympic Games, it’s hard to imagine a more anticipated race than the women’s 400 freestyle at this summer’s World Championships. On the first day of the meet, this field will feature the three fastest swimmers in history and the top-three finishers in last year’s World Swimmer of the Year voting squaring off for gold: Australia’s Ariarne Titmus as the Olympic gold medalist, the United States’ Katie Ledecky as the reigning world champion and Canadian teenager Summer McIntosh as the world-record holder.

Earlier this year, McIntosh uncorked a time of 3:56.06 in the event to knock off the previous global standard, a 3:56.40 set by Titmus last May. It was only last year when McIntosh first broke 4:00, with silver-medal finishes behind Ledecky at Worlds and behind Titmus at the Commonwealth Games, but at Canadian Trials, McIntosh covered the first half of the race more than a second faster than either Titmus or Ledecky ever had, and she held on. In the process, she pulled off an accomplishment no one imagined she could reach so soon. Later on in the meet, McIntosh became the first woman to break two world records at one meet since 2019 when she took down Katinka Hosszu’s record in the 400 IM.

But McIntosh faces worthy competition in two of history’s all-time great middle-distance freestylers. Two years ago, Titmus out-dueled Ledecky for Olympic gold in a race for the ages in Tokyo, with Ledecky pushed to the second-quickest time of her illustrious career in a runnerup finish. Titmus appeared poised to dominate the 400 free (plus the 200 free) internationally prior to McIntosh’s record.

Titmus has posted times in the 3:56-range on three different occasions (with McIntosh and Ledecky at once each), and she swam a solid time of 4:00.49 at the Australian Championships last month. The 22-year-old will have a shot at reclaiming the world record prior to the Fukuoka Worlds when she races at Australia’s Worlds qualifier meet next month.

Ledecky, meanwhile, won her fourth world title in five tries last year (although Titmus was absent from the field), and she has recorded a mark of 4:00.20 this year as she continues to maintain her consistent excellence at age 26. There was a time when Ledecky sat three seconds clear of history’s second-best performer in this event, and while Titmus and McIntosh have caught up in recent years, Ledecky looks capable of approaching her all-time best form and making it a race with these two younger challenges.

It would be a stunner if McIntosh, Titmus and Ledecky did not comprise the World Championships podium in some order this year, and for the first time ever, it will take a sub-4:00 performance to get on the podium at any meet. But if we’re looking for some other names to watch, don’t forget about Li Bingjie, the Chinese Olympic bronze medalist who tied her own Asian record in the event last week, or Erika Fairweather, the 19-year-old from New Zealand who swam a time of 4:00.62 last month to move to No. 6 all-time. And if Leah Smith ends up qualifying to join Ledecky on the U.S. team for this event, she will be aiming for a medal in this event at her fourth consecutive Worlds.

With all that in mind, who will emerge victorious at the World Championships? And we must consider the time: could history’s first-ever 3:55 swim be coming? Does someone else have a chance to steal a medal away from one of the Big Three? Vote on your choice in the comments below.

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Nick the biased Aussie
17 days ago

Titmus because it will be a real race.
I think if it comes down to a sprint finish in the last 50m she can’t be beaten, even if she’s behind. We’ve seen Katie tighten up when challenged multiple times now and Summer just has 1 strategy, go out fast and hold on.

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Virginia Coach
17 days ago

In the 400, MacIntosh, Titmus, Ledecky. Different story in the longer races.

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David
17 days ago

I don’t think she has a chance against Macintosh because Macintosh will go under 3:56 at worlds and titmus cannot match that, she hasn’t even dipped under 4:00 minutes this year, she beat a ledecky that hadn’t gone 3:56 in years and who didn’t medal in the 200 free at the olympics

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Nick the biased Aussie
16 days ago
Reply to  David

Remember that Katie has only gone 3:56 once and that was in 2016, 7 years ago.
Titmus has been 3:56 3 times in 2021/2022. Big difference.
Titmus and MacIntosh will dual it out for gold with Ledecky challenging for a medal.

Last edited 16 days ago by Nick the biased Aussie
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NCdistanceswimmer77
16 days ago

Ledecky went 3:57.36 at Tokyo though, and was only 4:01.27 at the U.S. Trials that year. She has already been 4:00 this year with trials still over a month away. I’m not saying that she is going to beat Titmus or McIntosh, but I don’t think she’ll be more than a body length behind- Titmus and McIntosh for sure break 3:56.5, hopefully also 3:56 and I’d love to see even faster. Ledecky should at the least be under 3:58 though, so won’t be that far behind if not with the pack. And I’d also love to see Ledecky go a new PB. However, I’m not looking to start an argument, so I’ll stop at that.

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commonwombat
17 days ago

At this point, it has to read Adv McIntosh on the grounds of her WR but the operative words are “at this point” given that neither Titmus or Ledecky have yet to really make any real statement.

Sub 4.00 needed to medal ? Concur. Potential new members of the sub 4.00 club ? Li Bingje – maybe; Fairweather – maybe; Smith – not sure; a bolter could be Pallister.

If the original question was slightly reframed to a more general “who will win gold in Fukuoka ?” then one could actually say “all three !!” with Titmus favoured at 200, McIntosh and Ledecky still a clear favourite at 800/1500.

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NCdistanceswimmer77
16 days ago

I think that Ledecky, Titmus, and McIntosh all break 3:56 at Worlds. I would love to see Ledecky reclaim the gold medal, but I think that McIntosh will pull off the feat.

My predictions would be a 3:54.9 for McIntosh (splits 1:55.8/1:59.1) to not only break 3:56 but also 3:55 for the first time in history! I think Ledecky and Titmus aren’t far behind, Ledecky going a new PB of 3:55.3 and Titmus doing the same in 3:55.6.

As for the rest, I could see Bingjie also breaking 4:00, perhaps a 3:59.5. I think everyone else who makes it back posts 4:00 or 4:01 swims, but still an incredibly fast field compared to past years!

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Nick the biased Aussie
16 days ago

It’s definitely Titmus v MacIntosh.
Ledecky doesn’t have the speed to get out with them in the first 100 or hang with them in the last 50. Different story in the 800/1500.

Gold will be between Titmus and MacIntosh.
Ledecky will be challenged for bronze.

Will be exciting because we could see 5 or 6 sub 4:00 swims. Hopefully Bingjie, Fairweather, Pallister. Unfortunately can’t see Smith dipping under 4:00.

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Skipper
16 days ago

I’d love Arnie to win in the 400 free but McIntosh would be heavy favourite. Arnie was in heavy work and was still getting over sickness at the Aussie champs let’s what she does at the Aussie world trials next month and at the world’s b4 we right her defending her gold in Paris.

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Edward
16 days ago

If Bingjie is in her 3:51 sc wr form she could beat them all!

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