Disclaimer: Dolfin Swim of the Week is not meant to be a conclusive selection of the best overall swim of the week, but rather one Featured Swim to be explored in deeper detail. The Dolfin Swim is an opportunity to take a closer look at the context of one of the many fast swims this week, perhaps a swim that slipped through the cracks as others grabbed the headlines, or a race we didn’t get to examine as closely in the flood of weekly meets.
In the history of swimming, only three women have ever broken four minutes in the 400 free. One was Federica Pellegrini, who only did it once, wearing a now-banned bodysuit in 2009. The second is Katie Ledecky, who might as well be wearing a bodysuit, with how far ahead of the world she has been in her career through the freestyle distances.
The third is Ariarne Titmus, who is closing in on Pellegrini’s former world record – and on Ledecky herself.
Titmus went a lifetime-best 3:59.35 over the weekend at Australia’s World Championship Trials. That’s a drop of three tenths from Titmus’s former best, a 3:59.66 at Pan Pacs last summer. She also went 3:59.66 at Australian Championships back in April and now owns 3 of the 21 all-time swims under four minutes. Pellegrini owns the one, and Ledecky the other 17, including the 12 fastest all-time.
That kind of dominance – and Ledecky’s world record of 3:56.46 – can make it feel like she’s still miles ahead of the world. And while Titmus still has a long ways to go to beat Ledecky at her best, she’s getting close enough to make the 400 free more like the 200 (where an upset of Ledecky wouldn’t be completely shocking) than the 800 and 1500 (where a Ledecky loss is still almost incomprehensible). Ledecky hasn’t approached that 3:56 since the 2016 Olympics. She was 3:57.9 at best last season, but that was in-season at the Indy Pro Swim Series. At what should have been her focus meet of the summer, Pan Pacs, Ledecky was only 3:58.50, and over the last two seasons (2017-2018 and 2018-2019), she’s only been faster than Titmus’s best four times.
It would still be considered a major upset if Titmus were to knock off Ledecky at Worlds this summer. But it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Titmus move to #2 in history in this event, perhaps even challenging Ledecky’s stranglehold on the top 10 performances of all-time. (Right now, Ledecky holds the 10th-best performance in history at 3:59.06).
It’s sometimes said that when one swimmer breaks a barrier, the rest of the world eventually starts to follow, even if it takes some time. Since Ledecky broke 3:59 back in 2014, the world has remained on the other side of the barrier. But by 2019, Titmus is leading the charge to catch up.
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