Few observers could have predicted such a crushing swim from Titmus. At the Australian national championships in April, where Titmus had her first opportunity to claim her world record back, she went over four minutes (4:00.49) having battled illness in the lead-up.
“I’m not disappointed,” Titmus said at the time. “I’m not going to worry. I know I have time.”
By the time Australian trials started – with hype around McIntosh, 16, growing by the day – Titmus won the 400m freestyle in an improved time of 3:58.47.
Not for the first time, Titmus said she would embrace the “underdog” tag heading into the world championships. However, she told reporters she hadn’t completely tapered in Melbourne. The swim she produced on Sunday night shows what a difference a bit of extra rest can make.
Whether that minor detail got back to McIntosh is unclear. This comment from Titmus certainly did.
“I feel like Summer hasn’t really had that experience yet racing on the international stage with the pressure. It’ll be interesting to see how she goes,” Titmus said.
Titmus does not have an ego, unlike some swimmers who dominate on the world stage. But deep down she could have been excused for feeling some private satisfaction at seeing McIntosh, the most hyped female swimmer at these world championships, capitulate when the heat was really on. The teenager finished fourth on Sunday, 4.56 seconds behind Titmus.
“It’s probably my most satisfying win,” Titmus said after becoming the first Australian woman to break the 400m freestyle world record at the world championships since Tracey Wickham in 1978.
Wickham’s time, 45 years ago, was 4:06.28.
Such extraordinary performances often have a ripple effect on the Australian team. Titmus’ Dolphins teammates arrived for competition on day two feeling two feet taller.
Although it did not bring an Olympic gold medal, it will go down as one of the finest performances by an Australian swimmer in history.
Titmus’ coach Dean Boxall, who is shying away from media duties until later in the week, was his usual, animated self during the race.
Nearby coaches pulled out mobile phones to get their own footage of the master tactician at work as Titmus executed their race strategy to perfection.
Titmus went out hard, leading McIntosh – in second place – by 0.53 seconds at the 200-metre mark.
The next 100m defined the race as Titmus put the hammer down to extend her lead to 1.45 seconds with two laps remaining. The demolition job continued right until the final stroke.
“It’s been a tough year for us,” said Titmus when asked about her coach. “I think it’s all come together at the perfect moment.”
Australian head coach Rohan Taylor had a suspicion Titmus might have been on the cusp of something special in Fukuoka.
“From what I have seen her do, I am not surprised that she is able to pull that off,” Taylor said. “There were two other quality athletes in the race and she just took it to them. Now we’ve got 12 months to wait for the next opportunity.”
July 27, 2024. Put it in the diary. It’s the opening night of competition in the pool in Paris. The women’s 400m freestyle is the second final on night one and will be unmissable.
Watch the World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka live on Channel Nine & 9Now.
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