Ledecky and Titmus remain the only swimmers outside of the supersuit era to break the four-minute barrier, with Ledecky’s 3:56.46 gold medal swim in Rio the world record. It’s a mighty mark but Titmus is no ordinary rival. In fact, she’s the first rival Ledecky has really had since she started dominating the distance events from London 2012.
“That is pretty crazy to match it,” Titmus said of her swim. “I tried to do the best I can out there by myself but it’s a lot tougher.
“As much as I tried my hardest tonight, you can always think ‘if you did have someone there (challenging), what would happen’.”
With Titmus, anything could happen. She is a star in the 200m as well – a race in which Ledecky is the Olympic champion but far from bulletproof – and looks an excellent medal prospect in Tokyo in that event.
But before her rise, Ledecky looked so untouchable from 400m and up that it would have been laughable to suggest she would have any real competition in the Olympic pool next year. Not any more.
Titmus swims the 800m but knows she can’t cut the time to get near the American in that event. Ledecky is so far ahead of the pack in the 1500m, new for women in Tokyo, that they may as well post her medal now and save everyone the bother.
But the 400m is shaping as one of the great races of the Games and the preview is only a few months away. Ledecky may yet show up, swim close to her world record or even break it, and Titmus gets sent back to square one.
But if Ledecky is slightly slower than her historical best and Titmus can continue to shave time from her current benchmark – which looks entirely possible given she will be tapered and ready to roll – then it’s game on between the pair.
At the Pan Pacs, Ledecky kicked hard in the final two laps but simply couldn’t completely shake Titmus, who broke the four-minute mark for the first time in her career. The Tasmanian, who trains in Queensland under coach Dean Boxall, is a fiercely aggressive racer and backs herself at every turn.
The idea that she could not only rattle Ledecky at the World Championships but topple her now appears more a reality than ever. It may well set the scene for one of the great races of the Olympic pool 12 months later.