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Katie Ledecky debuts at the Tokyo Olympics … as an underdog? Not so fast

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TOKYO — Katie Ledecky debuted here at the Olympics on Sunday night, then insisted she was uninterested in the woman who will, some 15 hours later, challenge her gold medal reign.

Ledecky swam a 4:00.45 in her preliminary heat of the 400-meter freestyle, then walked into a post-race interview room as Ariarne Titmus, her 20-year-old Australian rival, completed her own prelim swim.

A reporter asked Ledecky: Did you pay attention to Ariarne’s time?

“I haven’t seen it yet,” Ledecky said.

“She was 4:01.66,” a reporter told her.

“Yeah. Nice,” Ledecky said. She shrugged. “Yeah.”

She seemed genuine in her indifference. She also knew why the questions were being asked. Last month, Titmus rattled off a 3:56.90 at Aussie Olympic trials, a time that only 2016 Katie Ledecky has ever topped. It sent proverbial shockwaves across oceans, and put the 400 free in Tokyo on calendars as a must-see event (Sunday, 10:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

Unlike in other races, Katie Ledecky figures to have some competition in the 400-meter freestyle, namely Australia's Ariarne Titmus. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Unlike in other races, Katie Ledecky figures to have some competition in the 400-meter freestyle, namely Australia's Ariarne Titmus. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Ledecky, of course, won this gold and three others at Rio 2016. Long before her 21st birthday, she became widely hailed as the most dominant female swimmer ever. She traveled to Tokyo having not lost an 800-meter freestyle in eight years, and having not lost a 1500 free … ever. Her opponents in those distance events concede first place before they even arrive at the pool.

Titmus’ ascent, however, has set up two showdowns in Ledecky’s shorter events, the 400 and 200. Entering Sunday night, some even argued that Titmus, though unproven on the Olympic stage, was a slight favorite in both. After her year-leading trials swim, Titmus said, in part, of Ledecky: “She's not going to have it all her own way.”

Saturday’s public words, the first from each at the Olympics, were more tame. Both feel “relaxed.” Ledecky feels “confident.” Titmus feels “relieved that the moment’s finally here.”

They both know that past times are hereafter irrelevant. They both know that neither comparing times across oceans nor obsessing over prelims is prudent. They both know they can, and probably will, go faster Monday morning. They both know they’ll have to.

"I'd like to think I've got a bit more in the tank for the final,” Titmus said.

As she walked away after three questions and less than 90 seconds, an American reporter asked: “Does it matter that you were slower than Katie?”

Titmus kept walking, off to get a good night’s sleep, as the second seed behind swimming’s empress.

Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 3 slideshow embed
Best of Tokyo 2020 Day 3 slideshow embed

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