Ledecky fails first Titmus test as rivalry heats up

Australia's Ariarne Titmus landed the first blow in her Olympic duel with US swim great Katie Ledecky yesterday, snatching the 400m freestyle gold with the second-fastest time in history.

The 20-year-old challenger finished strongly to leave defending champion Ledecky, 24, in her wake, touchinghome in 3min 56.69sec.

Ledecky - who set the world record in Rio de Janeiro five years ago - hit the wall for silver in 3min 57.36sec, with China's Li Bingjie a distant third in 4:01.08.

Titmus was elated but composed after the "surreal" win in one of the most anticipated encounters of the Tokyo Olympics. "It's probably the biggest thing you could pull off in your sporting career, I'm over the moon," said Titmus.

"I don't really feel the hype, that's more you guys (media), I just try to race the best that I can and ignore everything else - honestly I thought I'd be more nervous coming into this."

Ledecky offered no excuses after losing an individual Olympic final for the first time in her career.

"I fought tooth and nail and that's all you can ask for," she said.

"I didn't feel like I died or fell off, she just had a faster last 50m or 75m and got her hand on the wall first."

Titmus' mission in Tokyo is to dethrone Ledecky in three individual events - the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle - and potentially the 4x200m relay.

Titmus' coach Dean Boxall did not share his charge's calm demeanour after her successful start, with footage of him gyrating his hips and hurling his face mask into the air quickly going viral on social media.

"Yeah, I lost it," he told reporters. "I think I went outside of my body. I just lost it. I've been with this girl five years, you know, having a dream together."

Titmus said she saw Boxall "bawling his eyes out" as she received her medal in the spectator-free Tokyo Aquatic Centre.

Titmus has been snapping at the American's heels since ousting her as world champion in 2019 and Ledecky, who is used to surging clear at the finish, praised her rival's "awesome" swim.

Titmus thanked Ledecky after the race for inspiring her, saying she was relishing their upcoming encounters.

"I wouldn't be here without her, she's set this amazing standard in middle-distance freestyle for girls and if I didn't have someone like her to chase, I definitely wouldn't be swimming the way I am," the Australian said.

"I'm really grateful to her and now it's good to have someone that I can race all the time. It's super fun. Now I can just have fun out there - being in a battle is the best thing."

Ledecky, who is also gunning for the 1,500m freestyle, will have ample opportunities to avenge the loss and add to her Olympic tally of five gold and two silver medals.

The American has the added motivation of breaking compatriot Jenny Thompson's record of 12 medals - eight gold, three silver and one bronze.

"I've got a lot of racing to do, so I'm just going to try to use this for momentum," she said. - AFP, REUTERS