For eight years, Katie Ledecky was the world record holder in the three longest women’s freestyle swimming distances, with those marks getting lowered 11 times in that stretch — each time by Ledecky herself.
Titmus, 21, finished in 3 minutes 56.40 seconds during Sunday night’s final, shaving six-hundredths of a second off Ledecky’s standard of 3:56.46, set at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
Titmus flirted with the world record at the 2021 Australian Olympic trials (3:56.90) and at the finals of the Tokyo Olympics (3:56.69) — the latter of which dealt Ledecky, the silver medalist, her first defeat at an international meet in one of her core events. Titmus also beat Ledecky for gold in the 200 meters in Tokyo; Ledecky earned a measure of revenge by besting Titmus in the 800 and added a second gold in the 1,500, which Titmus did not swim. They were the sixth and seventh Olympic golds of her career.
“It’s kind of nice now that I’m not going to be asked when I am going to break the world record,” Titmus told reporters Sunday. “I am the happiest I have ever been outside of swimming. I am the happiest I have ever been in my life in swimming. It’s definitely showing in the pool.”
Ledecky, 25, still owns the world records at the longest freestyle distances: 8:04.79 in the 800 at Rio 2016 and 15:20.48 in the 1,500 at the 2018 TYR Pro Swim Series meet in Indianapolis. In the 400, she broke Federica Pellegrini’s five-year-old world record of 3:59.15 in 2014, then lowered it two more times, most recently at Rio 2016.
As she did in Tokyo, Titmus spoke glowingly Sunday of Ledecky’s legacy and influence, telling reporters: “I can’t put myself up next to her. What she has done for female swimming has been insane. She has been at this level for 10 years. To be in the conversation with her — I feel completely honored. And I hope now this will keep the battle going and give her some drive.”
A rematch was set to occur at the world championships next month in Budapest, but Titmus earlier announced she would skip the worlds and instead compete in the Commonwealth Games starting in late July. That means Ledecky and Titmus are unlikely to meet again until the 2023 world championships in Fukuoka, Japan — one year before the 2024 Paris Olympics.