Tokyo Vision: Can Katie Ledecky Hold Off Ariarne Titmus In 400 freestyle Shootout?

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Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

Tokyo Vision: Can Katie Ledecky Hold Off Ariarne Titmus In 400 freestyle Shootout?

Had the COVID-19 pandemic not shaken the world, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo would be unfolding right now, titles and podium finishes earned by the finest athletes from around the world. Instead, we are in a competition lull and hopeful that the Games will be held next summer, with COVID-19 neutralized.

As we reach the nine days over which the swimming competition of a delayed Olympiad would have taken place, Swimming World is taking a glimpse at what might have unfolded this summer, had the Olympics not been postponed. Following the official schedule, we offer our virtual fields of eight finalists for each event and take a brief look at how the racing might have panned out until a few strokes away from decision and a result that will not be known until July/August 2021.

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Event: Women’s 400m freestyle
World Record: Katie Ledecky (2016) – 3:56.46

Historical Note #1: At the 1936 Games in Berlin, Denmark’s 15-year-old Ragnhild Hveger received a box of chocolates from her supporters, sharing them with all but one of her fellow finalists in the 400m freestyle – and Dutchwoman Hendrika “Rie” Mastenbroek, took it as a deliberate snub, vowing to take revenge. Hveger, who would go on to set 42 individual world records, led until 25m to go, only to be passed by Mastenbroek who thought, “This is better than any piece of chocolate.” She was the first woman to win four medals in one Olympics – after winning gold in the 100m freestyle, with the Dutch girls in the 4x100m freestyle relay and silver in the 100m backstroke to teammate Dina “Nida” Senff.

Historical Note #2: Leading into the 1988 Games in Seoul, East Germany’s Heike Friedrich had been unbeaten, winning 13 consecutive finals in the two years leading up to South Korea. But after winning the 200m freestyle, Friedrich finally met her match in American Janet Evans, a 17-year-old El Dorado High School student from California. Evans had also re-written the world record books en-route to the Games, including Tracey Wickham’s long standing 1978 world mark in the 400m freestyle in December of ’87. Evans had to confront a two-pronged East German attack with Friedrich joined by Anke Mohring – but with nothing separating Evans and Friedrich with 100m to go it was Evans who pulled away down the final two laps, negative splitting the race for the very first time to win the second of her three gold medals – the others coming in the 800m freestyle and the 400IM.

Virtual Vision

The Finalists (Listed Alphabetically)

  • Veronika Andrusenko (Russia)
  • Anna Egorova (Russia)
  • Wang Jianjiahe (China)
  • Boglarka Kapas (Hungary)
  • Ajna Kesely (Hungary)
  • Katie Ledecky (USA)
  • Leah Smith (USA)
  • Ariarne Titmus (Australia)

The Race

It was the biggest upset at the last World Championships in Gwangju in 2019 when Australia’s Ariarne Titmus sped past defending champion, Olympic champion and world-record holder Katie Ledecky in the final lap of the 400m freestyle. If you get the feeling it might well be a case of déjà vu in this long awaited Olympic final, the greatest freestyler in history wasted no time showing she was back to her old self.

Ledecky led Titmus (aiming to win this event for Australia for the first time since the great Shane Gould in Munich in 1972) through the first two laps. The first 100m would see Ledecky and Titmus almost together, with Ledecky keeping a close eye on the little Tasmanian-born upstart from Queensland with the pace really on.

Action off the 200m turn would see the other American Leah Smith make her move and she would join the two leaders. This looked like a race in three until Ledecky seemed to extend her lead, and actually moving toward world record pace.

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EYEBALLING: It could well come down to this as Katie Ledecky and Ariarne Titmus face-off on the final lap. Photo Courtesy: Becca Wyant

But Titmus and Smith and the Hungarian girls Kesely and Kapas would also stay in medal contention. Ledecky has a habit of sneaking under 30 seconds for the last two 50s and as the field made the final turn, it was Ledecky who split 29.81, leading the field down the final 50m.

Did Ledecky need to be a little faster as Titmus and Smith pushed in what had already developed into a race for the ages.

1 comment

  1. Aleksandar Tasic

    Since you asked that question, short answer is no.
    Long answer is if she goes back to Bruce Gemmell than yes, otherwise her best days are behind her.
    Meehan does not know what to do with her.