2019 World Champs Preview: Titmus Inches Closer to Ledecky in 400 Free

2019 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

  • All sports: Friday, July 12 – Sunday, July 28, 2019
  • Pool swimming: Sunday, July 21 – Sunday, July 28, 2019
  • The Nambu University Municipal Aquatics Center, Gwangju, Korea
  • Meet site
  • FinaTV Live Stream
  • Live results

WOMEN’S 400M FREESTYLE

  • World Record: 3:56.46, Katie Ledecky, USA — 2016 Rio Olympics
  • World Championship Record: 3:58.34, Katie Ledecky, USA — 2017 FINA World Championships
  • World Junior Record: 3:58.47, Katie Ledecky, USA — 2014 Pan Pacific Championships
  • Defending 2017 World Champion: 3:58.34, Katie Ledecky, USA

If you were betting on the outcome of the women’s 400 meter freestyle at the 2019 World Championships, would you put money on anybody other than Katie Ledecky to win gold? If we were to compile a list of all the major meets where she has won that race since 2013 when she won her first World Championship title (in any event), it would be obnoxiously long.

Ariarne Titmus (Swimming Australia, Ltd.)

Ledecky set the World Record at the 2016 Rio Olympics in a mind-boggling 3:56.46. Only three swimmers in history have ever broken the 4-minute barrier in the 400 LCM freestyle: Ledecky; Italy’s Federica Pellegrini, who no longer swims the distance; and Australia’s Ariarne Titmus, who in the past year has gone sub-4:00 three times. Though Titmus is working on closing the gap between her and Ledecky, the Australian’s best time of 3:59.35 is still a whole 2.89 seconds behind Ledecky’s… but, Ledecky only (“only”) beat Titmus by 1.16 seconds at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships (3:58.50 to 3:59.66), and that’s not even when Titmus swam her best time.

Ledecky’s best time in 2019 stands at 3:59.28, which is 1.) faster than Titmus’ lifetime best, which was presumable rested, and 2.) for Ledecky, a presumably un-rested performance.

The chances of anybody upsetting Ledecky for gold are minute; Ledecky is the heavy favorite and has both the fastest time in the world this year and the World Record. But, for the first time in a long time, the women’s 400 freestyle looks to be a closer race, if Titmus can continue with her upwards trajectory. To make things even better, they may not be the only swimmers to break 4-minutes: enter Wang Jianjiahe.

Jianjiahe is one of two fast-rising female distance swimmers from China. Her counterpart Li Bingjie will also likely race in the championship final of the 400 free in Gwangju, but of the two, Jianjiahe is the most likely contender for a spot on the podium. At the 2018 Asian Games, Jianjiahe and Bingjie went 1-2 in the 400, 800, and 1500 meter freestyles, with Jianjiahe setting Games Records in each race. Bingjie picked up her own individual gold medal in the 200 freestyle, which Jianjiahe did not contest, though the two did team up for the 4 x 200 freestyle relay, which China won by over 5 seconds. In the relay, Bingjie led off in a 1:56.94, and Jianjiahe swam second, delivering the 2nd-fastest split in the field at 1:55.35, just 7/100ths off Japan’s Rikako Ikee, who also swam the second leg of the relay.

Simona Quadarella (Photo by Giusy Cisale)

Though Bingjie’s lifetime best of 4:01.75 is nearly 1.5-seconds faster than Jianjiahe’s, which stands at 4:03.14, Jianjiahe has been winning more. At the 2018 FINA Short Course World Championships, Jianjiahe became World Champion in the 800 freestyle with a time of 8:04.35, nearly 4 seconds ahead of Italian Simona Quadarella. Bingjie finished outside the medals in the 800, touching a little over 1 second behind USA’s Leah Smith, who finished 3rd. Jianjiahe took also 2nd in the 400 behind Australia’s Titmus, who erased Jianjiahe’s 2-month-old World Record, touching 3:54.56 to the Australian’s 3:53.92, just 5/100ths under Jianjiahe’s former record. Going into Worlds, Jianjiahe seems to have the edge over Bingjie in the 400, though both should be comfortably into the finals.

Leah Smith has been the best American distance freestyler after Ledecky since 2016, making appearances on the podium in the 400 free for major international meets including the Rio Olympics (bronze), the 2017 World Championships (silver), and 2018 Pan Pacs (bronze). Smith has also been improving in the 800 freestyle. In April at the Richmond stop of the 2019 Pro Swim Series, Smith swam a 8:16.33 to become the 8th-fastest performer all-time in the event. Her split on the first 400 meters of the race clocked in at 4:07.53, which would itself rank Smith as the 22nd-fastest performer in the world this year, though she already occupies the 5th position on that list with a 4:03.86 from the FINA Champions Series in Indianapolis on May 31st. Smith recently parted ways with her long-time coach Corey Chitwood when he was hired by Indiana University, stating that she wanted to remain with Tuscon Ford Dealers Aquatics and her training group. Smith had been with Chitwood since she was an NCAA student-athlete at the University of Virginia.

The Hungarian of Boglarka Kapas and Anja Kesely have shaken up the world rankings in the 400 freestyle for the past several years. Kapas is the fastest Hunarian woman ever in the 400 freestyle, and the 14th-fastest all-time. Kapas set the Hungarian national record at the 2016 Olympic Games in 4:02.37, yet finished off the podium. Her fastest time this season is a competitive 4:05.56, though that may not be enough to stave of her fast-improving countryman, Kesely. Last summer at the 2018 European Championships, Kesely finished 2nd in the 400 free in 4:03.57, just 2/10ths behind Italy’s Simona Quadarella.

Quadarella started turning head when she picked up the bronze medal in the 1500 at the 2017 World Championships, and has only diversified her lineup since, becoming a highly-competitive swimmer internationally in the 400 and 800 as well. As the 2018 European Champion, 2018 Mediterranean Games Champion, and 21st-fastest performer all-time, Quadarella should be a factor for a spot in the top 8 at Worlds this summer in the 400 free.

Top 8 Picks:

Rank Swimmer Country Season Best Lifetime Best
1 Katie Ledecky USA 3:59.28 3:56.46
2 Ariarne Titmus Australia 3:59.35 3:59.35
3 Leah Smith USA 4:03.86 4:00.65
4 Wang Jianjiahe China 4:03.77 4:03.14
5 Li Bingjie China 4:03.29 4:01.75
6 Anja Kesely Hungary 4:04.70 4:03.57
7 Simona Quadarella Italy 4:06.92 4:03.35
8 Boglarka Kapas Hungary 4:05.56 4:02.37

Dark Horse: Aussie Kiah Melverton has been on a steady climb through the world rankings in the distance freestyles, and currently ranks 9th in the world in the 400. Melverton finished 2nd at Australian Trials in June behind Titmus in 4:05.30. If Melverton is able take her time down to the low 4:04 or 4:03 anything, she will likely earn a spot in the finals.

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Ragnar

It’ll be good to have somebody push Katie, the only way she’ll ever swim a 3:55 is if someone is behind her with a 3:57, and timus this year or next will do that.

Jim C

On the contrary, if Titmus can swim a 3:57 then Ledecky is likely swim 300 and race 100 like the swim 600 and race 200 that she did against Friis.

Markster

I think Leah Smith’s season and lifetime bests are swapped.

Backstrokebro

The finishing order of Ledecky, Titmus, and smith might be the safest medal picks at the meet

Samesame

I think Titmus may surprise us .

Dave

Ledecky would have to be seriously sick to loose but it’ll be nice to perhaps see another swimmer in the same camera angle with Ledecky in anything longer than a 200 for a change.

Dee

Titmus swam 3.59 last year aged 17. Dropping another couple seconds this year wouldnt be out of the ordinary. If she goes 3.57, Ledecky will need to be in Rio form which isnt a gimme. Ledecky is still hot favourite, but I don’t think her losing the 400 is as far-fetched as some think.

M Palota

Yep to this take. My pick for the upset of the meet is Titmus over Ledecky in the 400.

About Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson

Reid Carlson originally hails from Clay Center, Kansas, where he began swimming at age six.  At age 14 he began swimming club year-round and later with his high school team, making state all four years.  He was fortunate enough to draw the attention of Kalamazoo College where he went on to …

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