Katie Ledecky won her first medal of the Tokyo Olympics, but it was not the gold she’d hoped for. Australia’s Ariarne Titmus chased down Ledecky over the final 100 meters of the women’s 400-meter freestyle, taking first with a time of 3:56.69. Ledecky was second to the wall with a time of 3:57.36.
Ledecky, 24, led from the start, slowly building her lead over the first half of the race. Titmus, though, closed the gap by the 300-meter mark and had a slight edge as the two made their final turn. Titmus and Ledecky battled stroke for furious stroke over the final 50 meters. Ledecky actually recorded her fastest split — 29.12 seconds — over that stretch, but so did Titmus — 28.67.
Ledecky was trying to defend her Olympic title in the 400-freestyle event. She set the 400 world record at the Rio de Janeiro Games, where she posted a mark of 3:56.46. Her Tokyo final amounted to the second-fastest time she’d ever posted, but it wasn’t quite fast enough for gold.
“I think it’s great for the sport,” Ledecky told NBC. “It was a really fast field overall, and we really pushed this event forward.”
Ledecky won three individual gold medals at the 2016 Olympics and was targeting four in Tokyo. The 400 was her first event of these Games; she still has the 200, 1,500 and the 800, plus the 4×200 relay. Ledecky and Titmus will probably have two more head-to-head showdowns in Tokyo, squaring off in both the 200- and 800-meter races.
Titmus, 20, ramped up some of the intrigue surrounding the Tokyo freestyle events when she posted the world’s fastest 200- and 400-meter times at the Australian trials in June. The last time she and Ledecky raced side-by-side was the 2019 world championships, where Titmus won the 400 race and Ledecky, who was ill for much of the meet, took gold in the 800.