TOKYO – This was just the prelims in the women’s 400-meter freestyle. The main event of the 400 freestyle, the final, one of the most anticipated swimming races at these Olympics, is Monday morning. That is what matters.
But, for what it’s worth, on Sunday night at the Tokyo Aquatic Center, defending Olympic champion and world record holder Katie Ledecky of the United States was more than a second faster than her main rival, the Australian. Ariarne Titmus.
Swimming in various heats, Ledecky clocked his qualifying time of 4: 00.45. A few minutes later, Titmus arrived a bit slower in 4: 01.66. China’s Li Bingjie, swimming in the Ledecky wave, actually qualified ahead of Titmus in 4: 01.57.
It can mean something. It may not mean anything.
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Ledecky, 24, a five-time Olympic gold medalist, made her way through the maze of media interview stations as Titmus, 20, swam. So she didn’t know how Titmus was doing until a reporter told her.
“Yeah, cool,” Ledecky said in an entirely complimentary manner. “I mean, we were going to be out there in the middle lanes in all likelihood. It will be a great race tomorrow.
When Titmus entered the interview area, she answered a few questions and then was asked if it matters that she is slower than Ledecky. Already leaning towards the exit, she continued straight on.
These two share a bit of history. Ledecky has been the 400m world record holder for almost seven years, lowering her mark at the Rio Olympics five years ago. She is a three-time world champion in the 400m, but settled for silver at the 2019 world championships behind Titmus while battling a stomach virus.
Last month at the US Olympic Trials, Ledecky’s qualifying time was a disappointing 4: 01.27, more than two seconds off his best time of the year, nearly five seconds short of his world record. of 3: 56.46 and well behind the Titmus of 3: 56.90 swam at the Australian Trials which were running mostly at the same time.
“It wasn’t the 400m with the best feeling,” Ledecky said at the time. “I thought it was a lot faster than that, so I was a little surprised by the weather.”
Ledecky looked very different Sunday night at the Olympics.
“I felt really confident and relaxed coming in,” she said. “I really feel the energy of our team. It was a really good session this morning so I was just trying to feed it off and start my meet.
Ledecky hopes to ride the wave of American success in this competition.
The Americans won six medals in less than two hours on Sunday morning, the biggest opening day in American Olympic swimming history. Ledecky witnessed the first two medals in person.
“I did a relaxed, timed swim to watch the 400 IM,” she said, in which Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland scored a brace.
Ledecky said she then watched the semi-finals of the women’s 100 butterfly.
“I was really excited, really excited,” she said. “I told my coach, make sure I don’t stay longer than that, I’m planning on getting on the 11 o’clock bus. Don’t let me stay. I have set a deadline for myself.
She successfully escaped to return to the Olympic Village.
“I tried to relax, took a nap and was really happy with the way we’re starting out here.”
Ledecky is highly unlikely to not get carried away by the American momentum. Her roommates are Simone Manuel, Allison Schmitt, Natalie Hinds and Hali Flickinger.
Ledecky said: “So our whole apartment already has four medals or something like that.”