Eighteen-year-old Australian Ariarne Titmus left her mark on the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju by dethroning the queen of the pool, Katie Ledecky, in the 400m event. The American had remained undefeated in this distance since the Olympic Games London 2012. Rematch will be the name of the game at Tokyo 2020.
Nicknamed "the Terminator" or Arnie, after Arnold Schwarzenegger, 18-year-old Australian Ariarne Titmus burst onto the scene at the World Championships in Gwangju by defeating Katie Ledecky in the 400m. Undefeated in long-distance events (400m to 1,500m) since the Olympic Games London 2012, the American was the clear favourite. "I was only 11 years old at the time," Titmus cheerfully recalled after her victory. "I'd never seen her swim before. Katie is a true champion. I think every female middle-distance swimmer dreams of beating her." The daughter of a TV journalist, Steve, she appears to handle the media with ease despite her young age.
Tasmanian Ariarne shows her nerves of steel
In the 400m, the teenager showed composure as she raced with sheer determination to clinch the decisive win in the final 50 metres. However, the following day it became clear that Ledecky had been suffering from ill health and would be withdrawing from the 200m and 1,500m events. Titmus, with the nerves of steel that have come to define her, suddenly found herself in the limelight. "The Olympic Games are next year and I'm sure she'll be back in top form," she said. "She's dominated middle-distance swimming for such a long time; it's crazy to think about!"
Born in Launceston in the north of Tasmania, the giant island located south of Australia, "Arnie" has been steadily climbing the ranks. Four years ago, her entire family decided to leave the island and relocate to Brisbane, Queensland, in order to provide her with better training opportunities. She began working under Peter Gartrell and was then coached by the eccentric Dean Boxall at St Peters Western Club.
She went on to secure a fourth-place finish in the 400m at the Budapest 2017 World Aquatics Championships, after she had only just turned 16. She then reached a career milestone in 2018, taking home three gold medals at the Commonwealth Games in Australia, where she won the 400m, 800m and 4x200m freestyle relay. But it was at the Short Course World Championships in China where she really stood out. She dominated the 400m and won the 200m freestyle, securing a new world record with both victories.
A complete set of medals with the added bonus of a world record
After her win in Gwangju, Titmus managed to pick up another medal by coming in second in the 200m freestyle behind veteran Federica Pellegrini, before the team triumph in the 4x200m freestyle relay. Swimming in the first leg, she set the best time of all the finalists with 1:54.27 and lit a fire under her Australian team-mates, who successfully took down the world record with a time of 7.41:50.
Titmus was hot on the heels of Ledecky in the 800m, but the determined American remained on course to clinch the win. She set a fast pace and was comfortably ahead for the first 400 metres. It was then that Italian Simone Quadarella began to attack to take the lead. Ledecky came back in the last 50 metres to finish ahead of Quadarella and Titmus, who won her third individual World Championship medal. Gold, silver and bronze: the collection is complete. The 2019 World Championships will serve as a springboard for her Olympic Games debut in Tokyo. Although, after this wake-up call, Ledecky will surely not go down without a fight.