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‘It’s been an honour’: How Ledecky, Titmus beguiled the world in Tokyo

“It’s been overwhelming for me this week, it’s tough. This is different from any other meet I’ve done. The whole hype around the Olympics just adds that extra tiredness and emotional drain.

“To look at Katie and see what she has achieved at three Olympics, I would dream of that. I’m going to take a break and reflect on what I’ve done here. I want to have longevity in my swimming career, so I want to soak it in while I can.”

Ledecky was on a similar train of thought. Before Titmus arrived, she knew nobody trained as hard as her, wanted to win as much as her, or had a pathological need to be better and faster every time she raced. In the young Australian, she sees parts of herself and understands the sacrifices that have been made at every level.

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“I understand the work that it takes to get to this point and swim the times that we’re swimming. There’s a respect for the work. For the athlete, the coaches, the families,” Ledecky said.

“To have somebody right there, you have that mutual respect. We’re very friendly. There’s nothing between us, we’re just going to keep moving forward and follow our own paths and work towards our own goals.

“If we happen to get side by side, we’re going to have great races and be fierce competitors. But I hope we always have a great respect for each other. It’s been an honour and a privilege to race her.”

The truth is, both Titmus and Ledecky needed each other ahead of such a disrupted Games, one that had been postponed and twisted to fit a pandemic. In their respective nations, they have only the seconds on the clock to keep them company in competition. Simply knowing the other was out there, grinding away in a distant pool or gym, was more than enough to fire the competitive senses.

Ariarne Titmus and Katie Ledecky show off their medals after the 400m final.

Ariarne Titmus and Katie Ledecky show off their medals after the 400m final.Credit:Getty

“She swam so fast at her trials. I was a little off at my trials, she really pushed me to work really hard. I wanted to deliver, I wanted to have that great race in the 400,” Ledecky said. “I wanted to be up there and give her a great race. I think we really pushed each other. Not just this week but over the past five years.

“(It’s) just knowing that we are both out there working hard to get to this point and these races.”

Ledecky is 24 and will take the most deserving of breaks before returning to training. She has already committed to the Paris Games in 2024 and perhaps a home Games in Los Angeles in 2028. She joked that Titmus should aim for Brisbane 2032, by which time she will be in her early 30s.

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More pressing is their rematch at the FINA World Championships in just 12 months’ time. It will be held back in Japan and Ledecky may well trim down her program – perhaps cull the 200m – to try and claw back her cherished 400m crown.

Titmus will be ready and no longer can she claim to be the one doing the stalking. That changes the paradigm once more as the two best swimming nations in the world prepare to once again watch and wonder.

In Tokyo, they elevated their sport. Nobody could have asked for more.

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