Australia's 'Terminator' Titmus - rise of the machine

·3 min read

At first glance, Ariarne Titmus's nickname 'The Terminator' seems a poor fit for the personable, self-effacing swim sensation from Australia.

But put the 20-year-old in the Tokyo Olympic pool and 'Arnie' acquires the relentless killer instinct of Schwarzenegger's laser-eyed robotic assassin.

Her target? US freestyle great Katie Ledecky, who until these Games had never been defeated in an individual Olympic final.

Titmus and Ledecky have faced off twice so far in Japan and on both occasions the upstart Australian has emerged victorious.

She found another gear when Ledecky attempted to mow her down in the closing stages of the 400m freestyle, clocking the second fastest time in history, 3min 56.69sec.

Titmus then pulled out an Olympic record to claim the 200m in 1:53.50, while her 24-year-old American rival finished fifth.

The pair will also face off in 800m freestyle and the 4x200m relay to complete a 'duel in the pool' that has long been among the most anticipated contests of the Tokyo Olympiad.

"It's always great racing Katie -– it's exciting for everyone, including myself," Titmus said this week of the swimmer widely regarded as the greatest women's freestyler in history.

However, Ledecky has had to console herself in Tokyo with gold in the 1500m -- an event not contested by Titmus -- and 400m silver to add to her existing haul of five gold and one silver.

- 'Blossomed' after big win -

Originally from Australia's sparsely populated island state of Tasmania, Titmus moved north to Queensland five years ago to access better training facilities and coaching expertise.

She joined the stable of coach Dean Boxall, a larger-than-life character whose wild celebrations after Titmus' 400m triumph went viral.

Boxall not only improved Titmus' technique but drilled into his shy teenage charge the belief that she could compete with, and beat, the best.

She announced herself on the big stage in 2019, beating Ledecky in the 400m at the world championships in South Korea, the American's first-ever loss at a major meet.

Boxall said it was a turning point for the challenger, who has continued to develop.

"Arnie's just getting better and better," he said this week. "She was confident after 2019, she was ready to tackle it, but I think she's just maturing as a girl.

"Her life around her, she's put things in order, she's not this little girl that came to me when she was 15. She's just blossomed."

But Ledecky was ill at the 2019 worlds and Titmus's supporters complained that meant the Australian never received due credit for her swim.

They also accused the American of failing to congratulate her rival after the loss, although Titmus herself has always been highly respectful of a competitor she describes as one of her idols.

"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 after the 400m win.

A shoulder injury kept Titmus out of the pool for three months early in the year but she has showed no sign of lingering damage in Japan.

Apart from light-heartedly grumbling about being "bloody exhausted" by her gruelling schedule, Titmus said she was enjoying the Games and feeling far less nervous than she had anticipated.

"It's just about winning here and I'm very happy," the two-time gold medallist said.

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