Ariarne Titmus has goals on his back after Tokyo Olympics heroics

“I have not had a break for more than two weeks in my life since I started swimming. I’ve pretty much gone in two months from the peak of my life. I’ve climbed Everest, and now I’m under base camp – I’m almost underground – but I want to build towards Paris, so these are the first steps. ”

Titmus stopped the nation as she defeated Ledecky in a stirring 400m freestyle in Tokyo and then backed up with victory in the 200m freestyle.

But a sluggish 200-meter freestyle relay – by her standards – suggested the race took a toll before striking back with a 800m quality to take silver behind the American star. It sank Titmus and she says she needed to fill up the tank as she prepared for a massive year of racing in 2022 with the World Championships and Commonwealth Games.

“I was exhausted after the meeting, mentally and physically,” she says. “Mentally, I needed more than anything else a break from the water. It’s just relentless, every day. We made a plan, we made a goal of winning at the Olympics, and to do that required a great deal of effort and sacrifice. Now it has happened, I have to make status. ”

But the challenge ahead of Titmus is vastly different. She can no longer fix herself by simply beating Ledecky, who defended both the 200m and 400m Olympic crowns in Tokyo. After experiencing the work it takes to swim at Ledecky’s high level, Titmus has more respect than ever for its big rival.

Ariarne Titmus speaks to fans during the Olympic and Paralympic celebrations in Brisbane on Friday.

Ariarne Titmus speaks to fans during the Olympic and Paralympic celebrations in Brisbane on Friday.Credit:Getty

“I know what it takes to win now and she’s been at that level for a decade,” Titmus said. “It makes me understand and respect what it has taken, and it has only grown since Tokyo. I love and respect her as a competitor and I hope she stays at that level. ”

Staying on top will prove to be tough, if not harder, for Titmus than climbing the mountain. She is still just 21, but already a new generation of swimmers is squirting on her heels.

One of them is Canadian prodigy Summer McIntosh, who finished in fourth place in the 400m freestyle in Tokyo at the age of just 14 years. Her time of four minutes and 2.42 seconds is far ahead of what both Titmus and Ledecky did at a similar age, as the dynamics of distance freestyle change forever.

The byproduct of Ledecky and Titmus pushing each other to go ever faster is that the new group of hunters are beginning to believe that anything is possible and that anything over four minutes will not be good enough at a major rally.

“I want to climb Everest again,” Titmus says. “Everything has changed. I’m no longer the hunter, I’m hunted. And there come some young girls who are really fast. Summer McIntosh, she’s 10 seconds faster than I was at that age and the same for Katie, she was nowhere near a 4:02 at 2 p.m.

“She is right there. She’s chasing me and Katie now. But I’m looking forward to it. Racing is the best fun we have. ”

Titmus struggled with a shoulder injury before Tokyo, and as she matures as an athlete, she begins to know her body and the right programs needed to ensure she stays on top. Ledecky has recently changed coach to move closer to her family in the US, but after being so dominant for so long, she knows what works and does not work when she is in the water.

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How Titmus performs at next year’s world championships in Japan will be of great interest. Ledecky always swims to win and would like to return to the top of the picks after 400m silver and missing medals in the 200m.

Whether Titmus can maintain the kind of expertise between the Olympic bikes that has helped define Ledecky as the greatest female swimmer of them all remains to be seen. But the tough competitor in her will not rise to the top, just to fall away so quickly.

With the pressure valve released after their Olympic epic, it will be a rematch to enjoy across two swimming nations.

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