Aussie swim star puts target on ‘special’ rival
ARIARNE Titmus will sacrifice the sugar hit of a super competitive showdown with Katie Ledecky in the 200m freestyle in an attempt to close the gap on the world record-holder in the race she dominates.
Titmus has been a revelation over the past year, pushing to fourth place in the 400m freestyle at last year's world championships in her first international campaign before winning three gold and a silver at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
But she trains under the virtual shadow of Ledecky, the woman who won the 200m, 400m and 800m freestyle at the Rio Games and who holds the world record for the 1500m - the event that will be added to the Olympic program for Tokyo 2020.
Titmus swam a world-class 200m at the Commonwealth Games and could push Ledecky in the event at this week's Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo but its scheduling less than an hour after the 800m on Thursday's opening day of competition means she has axed it from her program.
While she has been solid in the 800m, Titmus has not yet produced a swim that would be on Ledecky's radar and wants to announce herself in the event at the Pan Pacs in a crucial step on the road to Tokyo 2020.
"Dean and I spoke and said would you prefer to do a great 200 and be really tired and do an average 800 or do a really good 200 and still be upset with your 800 time?," Titmus said.
"I wasn't quite happy with it at Comm Games, so we said we should drop the 200m, focus on the 800 and swim a better time.
"I haven't quite done what I want to do in the 800 so that's the reason why I'm targeting it more here."
Ledecky won the 800m at the US national in 8min 11.50sec, almost nine seconds faster than Titmus's best but still almost seven seconds outside her own world record.
It's a massive gap and one Titmus, whose best time stands at 8:20.02, is out to bridge, at least a little, at this meet.
"Everyone is (just) another swimmer but she is kind of special a little bit, she is very fast," Titmus said.
"When she arrived I saw what she looked like but I don't pay too much attention to it.
"I can only control what I can do and if she swims very fast, then good on her. If she's not, then it gives me a great chance to try and get closer to her.
"I'm just going to do the best I can and see how I go."
Australian team director Jacco Verhaeren said while Titmus would try to fire a shot across the bow of the American at this meet, Ledecky was so far ahead of the rest of the world in the distance events it would be tough to shake her.
"I am pretty sure she will try, I think Katie at the moment is still up there, world record holder, Olympic champion," Verhaeren said.
"I think she is a great example for her, but it is a race so let's go for it."
But Verhaeren said heading into the next two years as underdog was no bad thing for the hungry Titmus.
"She is not particularly nervous, more excited to see how she goes and that is the right type of nerves that you need," he said.
"There is also no doubt she is the underdog here so there is nothing to be nervous about, I think your life changes when you are the favourite and you are in lane four but she is not there yet."