Titmus overcame an unwell Ledecky to win the 400m freestyle at the 2019 world championships and delivered another statement of intent at the Australian trials in June, swimming the distance in 3:56.90. That is less than half-a-second slower than Ledecky’s world record, and more than four seconds quicker than the time the American posted in the US trials.
Australian optimism is understandable, though they also looked to be emerging as a force capable of mounting a sustained challenge to American supremacy in the early 2000s, only to underwhelm in the end. The two nations even duked it out in made-for-television battles in 2003, 2005 and 2007 called the Duel in the Pool. The hyped-up rivalry proved almost as strained as the rhyme in the title. A team of elite Europeans was sourced as fresh opposition from 2009 to 2015, but fared no better. The US will be hoping it’s the same story in Tokyo. The coming days should be interesting.