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Thorpe: Why Ariarne Titmus should fear nobody – even Katie Ledecky

by ZwemZa on April 14th, 2018

Real deal: Ariarne Titmus celebrates after winning gold at the Women’s 800m freestyle. Photo: RICK RYCROFT

Ian Thorpe was already a believer before Ariarne Titmus hit the water at the Commonwealth Games. Now, the swimming legend believes Australia’s rising distance star can not only rattle Katie Ledecky in Tokyo but challenge the American great for Olympic gold.

The prevailing theory in swimming circles is that Ledecky, the dominant world record holder, world and Olympic champion, simply cannot be touched in the 400m and 800m freestyle events.

Ledecky also swims the 200m, as does Titmus, and there she is mortal, being beaten for the first time in a major championship last year by Italy’s Federica Pellegrini. Australia’s Emma McKeon would dead-heat with Ledecky for World Championship silver.

Now, for perhaps the first time in Ledecky’s career, the fin of a shark has surfaced on the distant horizon. At just 17, Titmus is four years the junior of the world-beating American and every bit as hungry for success.

Ledecky’s 400m world mark of 3:56.46s, set at the Rio Olympics in 2016, remains the clear standard. But Titmus is on the move, swimming the sixth fastest 400m in history on the Gold Coast with a 4:00.93s personal best.

Thorpe says Titmus, under the coaching of rising mentor Dean Boxall, must now plot the course to Tokyo under the assumption she can win the 400m, not just race for second. Even Michael Phelps was beaten in his prime.

Gold standard: Titmus (left) with Australian teammates after winning 4x200m freestyle gold. Photo: AP

“I think it’s a two-year strategy for Ariarne. That’s the appropriate way to look at it and work out how much time she wants to take off that 4:00. The next goal becomes very obvious, which is swimming under four minutes, which she will do under the next 12 months,” Thorpe told Fairfax Media.

“It’s having a strategy around how that looks in Tokyo. It may be getting a particular time before Tokyo, then at the Olympics make it about racing.

“I think Ledecky is beatable. It’s because of how well Ariarne Titmus is swimming that people go  ‘Katie Ledecky is beatable’. Katie Ledecky was beaten at the World Championships… Ariarne would have seen that.

“The champions are beatable. People thought Michael Phelps wasn’t beatable in a certain period. But it happened. There are a select few in that group.

“With someone that is young like Ariarne… you haven’t been told what you can’t do yet. And you think you can do anything. That’s what we teach young people, in swimming or at school. For a long time you believe that.”

Times are one thing and only part of the reason Thorpe sees something special in the former Tasmanian, whose entire family moved to Brisbane to further her swimming career.

Her drive to succeed and, at least to this point, complete detachment from any and all hype about her talents has left Thorpe convinced the potential is very real.

I met her back at the 2017 Australian Championships when she burst onto the scene. I even love some of her reactions. In the 200m (she took silver behind Canada’s Taylor Ruck), I looked at her and she was like ‘I wanted that… but it’s next time. I’ll get that’.

“There’s the frustation, then she moves on and thinks: ‘That’s next’. She’s just so bankable in the last 10m. She wants to get onto that wall.”

It was a dominant performance from Australia in the Commonwealth pool but Thorpe presents a voice of reason looking ahead to the next Olympics, which are the pointy end of the four-year cycle.

The rush of gold was important culturally within the squad, he said, while the novelty of a home Games had beamed swimming back into households at prime time. It felt to him like the boost the sport needed.

“Overall, it was amazing, because success breeds success in a team environment. First night, winning two gold, it was a good start. But it was two again… I was just a bit concerned about where we are going to be at this meet,” Thorpe said.

“The next night, six gold medals, so it was a good guide of where we are against the Commonwealth nations. It’s exciting… but there is more work to be done over the next two years. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

“This is the starting point swimming needs. Swimming feels like it’s back now. That’s appropriate. They’ve had a meet where the nations are proud of the results and the way the athletes have handled themselves.

“I think swimming has done a great job to get its culture back together. But they didn’t have the results with it. Now we have some results to work with.”

Big fan: Ian Thorpe rates Ariarne Titmus highly.

Three Australian swimmers would end the meet on top of the world rankings, with Titmus (400m free), Cate Campbell (50m free) and Bronte Campbell (100m free) all notching the fastest times of the year.

The women’s 4 x 100m relay remains out on its own after slashing its own world record yet again and looks on track to defend their Olympic title in two years.

Thorpe was on commentary duty for Seven during the Games but behind the scenes has been contributing where he can to the swimming team, even if it’s just a conversation with a rising star like Titmus.

“I try to and I try to privately, when I can. We got to finish pretty early on the final night and I went down to hang out with some of the swimmers and say hi to the coaches, to talk to them, not just about them.

“Every second person had a great swim. It’s a good group. I get nervous for them, sometimes because I don’t think the result is what we would like. And because I know what that feeling is like behind the blocks.”

Ian Thorpe is an ambassador for addidas + Parley, which seeks to prevent plastic from entering the oceans and turning what does into wearable products.

Thorpe on Cate Campbell…

“We could tear this apart for hours. Bronte’s win, that swim was amazing. That was her living up to her potential. It may be a case that 360 days of the year Cate wins and on the other five, Bronte might. I won’t discredit Bronte because that was a swim that would have probably won anywhere in the world.

“For Cate, I think she played it a little bit safe. I think she just wanted to get the win to move it behind her. I think it’s ok… she swum so well in the 50m that expectations went through the roof. We had no idea what her return meet was going to look like.

“Technically, I’ve never seen her look better. I love watching her swim. In that swim, she was missing some of the magic that gets me excited. It looked a little bit more like a semi-final swim. Her time was still good but she was just off by that little amount.”

Can Kyle Chamlers be a force at 100m and 200m?

“Yes, he can. We shouldn’t be talking about him not doing both. He’s good enough. He needs more tools in how he can swim races. He needs to have different strategoes to emply at different meets and he needs to employ all of those.

“He’s not always going to be able to mow everyone down. If he had his 100m, if he tried to do that to (American 100m free world champion Caeleb) Dressell, he’ll be a second behind him. It’s as simple as that. It’s knowing that you can swim different ways.

“I got to that point in the 200m. I think he knows he it but he needs time and race strategy. He shouldn’t be afraid to try things and change things up.”

Phil Luton | The Sydney Morning Herald

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