Ariarne Titmus

Katie Ledecky beaten in 400m freestyle to open swim worlds

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Katie Ledecky suffered her first loss in a major international 400m freestyle, getting run down by Australian 18-year-old Ariarne Titmus in the last 50 meters to open the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea on Sunday.

Titmus overcame a .62 of a second deficit going into the last 50 and won by 1.21 seconds over Ledecky in 3:58.76. Ledecky held off countrywoman Leah Smith by 1.32 seconds for the silver.

“I just got to the last turn and felt like I just tightened up,” said Ledecky, who lost a major international final for the third time (the other two were in the 200m free). “My legs were just dead. Obviously, Ariarne took advantage of that.

“This stings a little, unfamiliar and different.”

Ledecky, known for her endurance, had the second-slowest last 50 meters of the eight-woman field. Titmus went 1.83 seconds faster over the last length of the pool.

“I knew that I properly had that in me,” said Titmus, whose coach is known to utter Ledecky’s name as motivation in practices. “She’s the greatest ever.”

Ledecky had won the last six major international 400m frees among the world championships, Pan Pacific Championships and Olympics dating to 2013. But she swam her slowest time of her seven major finals on Sunday and her 18th-fastest 400m free overall.

“My physical preparation has been great for this meet, really expected to be a lot faster than that,” said Ledecky, who said last week she was feeling better in the pool than in a long time, perhaps since Rio. “I knew it was going to be a tough race going in. I was nervous for it.”

This makes Titmus, nicknamed “Terminator,” the favorite in Wednesday’s 200m freestyle, too, given she has been faster than Ledecky in that event this year. Titmus emerged as a rival in 2018, outsplitting Ledecky in the last half of the Pan Pacific Championships 400m free and giving the American her closest-ever major win in the event (still by a comfortable 1.16 seconds).

Ledecky is just getting started. She’s slated for five events in Gwangju, South Korea, continuing with the 1500m freestyle heats on Monday. She is also expected to swim the 200m and 800m frees and the 4x200m free.

“I need to rebound from this, and I need to get my fight back,” she said.

SWIM WORLDS: TV Schedule | Results

Also Sunday, Caeleb Dressel led off a U.S. 4x100m freestyle that earned gold in 3:09.06, a world championships record. Dressel, who earned a Michael Phelps record-tying seven golds in 2017, was joined on the relay by Blake PieroniZach Apple and eight-time Olympic medalist Nathan Adrian, who announced in January that he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

“I’m very grateful to be here racing,” Adrian said on Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA. “It beats the heck out of being home, waiting for test results, waiting for another surgery.”

Australia won the women’s 4x100m free, anchored by Cate Campbell, who had the fastest split, in 3:30.21. The U.S., anchored by Simone Manuel, broke the American record for silver in 3:31.02.

China’s Sun Yang earned his fourth straight 400m free world title amid a doping controversy that has American Lilly King criticizing.

Sun grabbed his 10th world title overall in 3:42.44, relegating Rio Olympic champ Mack Horton of Australia to silver by .73. Horton called Sun a “drug cheat” in Rio for Sun was banned three months in 2014.

Horton stood behind the medal podium rather than on it for the Chinese anthem. Horton and Sun did not shake hands at their medal ceremony, and Horton stood a step away from Sun and bronze medalist Gabriele Detti for post-ceremony photos.

“[Sun’s] actions — and how it’s been handled — speak louder than anything I’ll ever say,” Horton said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Adam Peaty became the first man to break 57 seconds in the 100m breaststroke semifinals, lowering his world record for the fifth time to 56.88. The next-fastest man in history’s best time is 58.29.

Swimming worlds continue Monday morning ET with finals in the men’s 50m butterfly (Dressel) and 100m breaststroke (Peaty) and women’s 100m butterfly (Sarah Sjöström) and 200m individual medley (Katinka Hosszu).

NBC Olympics researcher Megan Soisson contributed to this report from Gwangju.

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MORE: Katie Ledecky faces toughest tests yet at swim worlds

Katie Ledecky, Australian rivals trade fast times before world champs

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It looks like Katie Ledecky will go into the world championships with the fastest times in the world this year in three of her four events, but trailing a pair of Australians in the 200m freestyle.

Ariarne Titmus, 18, and Emma McKeon, 25, each starred at Australia’s trials for July’s worlds in South Korea. Full results are here.

Titmus, who emerged last year as Ledecky’s closest competition ever in the 400m free, won the 400m and 800m frees at trials. Her 400m time — 3:59.35 — is just .07 off Ledecky’s fastest time in the world this year (which Ledecky set at a small meet in California on Saturday).

Ledecky is undefeated in 400m, 800m and 1500m free finals at major international meets, but that record could be tested like never before at worlds.

The 200m free is another story for Ledecky, who took silver at the 2017 Worlds and bronze at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships. This year, she ranks fourth in that event, the shortest of her individual races.

Titmus leads the way this year at 1:54.30, a time that Ledecky hasn’t bettered since she won Rio Olympic gold in a personal-best 1:53.73. But Titmus was beaten at Australia’s trials by the veteran McKeon (albeit in 1:54.55, No. 2 in the world this year). McKeon shared silver with Ledecky at the 2017 Worlds.

Ledecky has a bit more of a cushion in the 800m and 1500m frees, where Chinese 16-year-old Wang Jianjiahe has surfaced as perhaps the closest distance rival of her career.

200m Freestyle
1. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 1:54.30
2. Emma McKeon (AUS) — 1:54.55
3. Sarah Sjostrom (SWE) — 1:55.29 (not expected to swim 200m free at worlds)
4. Katie Ledecky — 1:55.78

400m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 3:59.28
2. Ariarne Titmus (AUS) — 3:59.35
3. Li Bingjie (CHN) — 4:03.29

800m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 8:10.70

2. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 8:14.64
3. Leah Smith (USA) — 8:16.33

1500m Freestyle
1. Katie Ledecky — 15:45.59
2. Wang Jianjiahe (CHN) — 15:46.69
3. Madeleine Gough (AUS) — 15:56.39

MORE: Olympic breaststroke champion faces ban for missed drug tests

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Katie Ledecky wins 400m free at Pan Pacs, but she has company

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Katie Ledecky is still queen of the 400m freestyle, but now a younger swimmer is closer to Ledecky than any previous rival.

Ledecky won the 400m free at the Pan Pacific Championships in 3:58.50, the sixth-fastest time ever. She was under world-record pace through 250 meters in Tokyo. None of that is a surprise.

Runner-up Ariarne Titmus has been the recent revelation, clocking an Australian record 3:59.66 on Saturday and finishing about a body length behind Ledecky, outsplitting her in the last half of the race. Nobody has been that close to the American in a major 400m final.

“It’s exciting for me to see how I kind of put the standard out there,” Ledecky said. “I know there a lot of girls that are chasing that. It’s good to see someone get under it [four minutes]. It’s going to push me to go even faster and set the benchmark a little higher.”

PAN PACS: Results | TV/Stream Schedule

Ledecky winning margins in 400m frees
2013 Worlds — 2.65 seconds
2014 Pan Pacs — 6.18
2015 Worlds — 3.89
2016 Olympics — 4.77
2017 Worlds — 3.2
2018 Pan Pacs — 1.16

Ledecky was not on Saturday’s U.S. 4x100m free relay that took silver behind Australia, which means she has one event left at Pan Pacs, Sunday’s 1500m free.

Ledecky is an overwhelming favorite there, putting her in line to finish the meet with three golds, one silver and one bronze in five events. She captured five golds in six events at 2014 Pan Pacs, breaking two world records.

“It’s been a tough week competing in a different time zone, very far from the U.S., 16-hour time difference,” Ledecky said. “So it’s been a lot harder, I think, than all of us anticipated, knowing that we just got here [Sunday].”

Titmus, 17, became the third woman to break four minutes in the 400m free after Ledecky and former world-record holder Federica Pellegrini.

Titmus ranks third in the world in the 200m free this year but skipped the event at Pan Pacs, where Ledecky finished third behind Canadian Taylor Ruck and Japanese Rikako Ikee. The Tasmanian also ranks third in the 800m free, nearly 10 seconds behind Ledecky, so the 400m may be her sweet spot.

“That’s the goal, to be up there with her and hopefully she’ll enjoy having someone to race,” Titmus said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. “She hasn’t had anyone to race for a long time, so I’m getting closer. On the sixth lap [from 250 meters to 300 meters] I pulled her back in a bit, but she has a bit more speed than me, and she got away a bit on the seventh 50 and not the last 50. I did the best I could.”

Also Saturday, seven-time 2017 World champion Caeleb Dressel won the 100m butterfly by .57 in 50.75, a quarter of a second off his time from nationals two weeks ago, which remains fastest in the world this year.

Dressel later led off the U.S. men’s 4x100m free relay anchored by Nathan Adrian, edging Brazil by .35. But the Americans were later disqualified for swimming out of order.

Chase Kalisz completed a sweep of the individual medleys, as he did at 2017 Worlds, by taking the 200m IM in 1:55.40, a personal best.

Olympic champion Mack Horton was upset by fellow Aussie Jack McLoughlin in the men’s 400m free — 3:44.20 to 3:44.31. Horton’s 3:43.76 from the Commonwealth Games on April 5 remains fastest in the world this year.

Ikee captured the women’s 100m fly in 56.08, becoming the fourth fastest woman all time. World bronze medalist Kelsi Dahlia of the U.S. was second in 56.44. Olympic and world champion Sarah Sjöström of Sweden, not competing at Pan Pacs, has the 11 fastest times ever.

World silver medalist Yui Ohashi of Japan clocked the fastest women’s 200m IM of the year — 2:08.16.

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