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Swimming-Ledecky leads US charge at worlds but faces big test in opening race

Randy Mancini 4 Jul 22

FUKUOKA, Japan (Reuters) – The United States will look to continue their dominance when the swimming events at the World Aquatics Championships get underway in the Japanese city of Fukuoka on Sunday, with Australia also aiming to lay down a marker before next year’s Paris Olympics.

The Americans claimed 17 gold medals out of a table-topping total of 45 in the previous edition last year in Budapest, with Australia well behind as the next most successful team bagging six gold out of 17 medals overall.

Seven-times Olympic champion Katie Ledecky will again lead the U.S. charge, but Australia will fancy their chances with a star-studded team that includes the likes of Ariarne Titmus, Kaylee McKeown, Emma McKeon and Kyle Chalmers.

“I’m excited about this team,” Australia head coach Rohan Taylor said last month. “We’ve got a great mix of experienced campaigners and some young blood coming through.

“These world championships are such an important stepping stone in what is a big 12 months before the Paris Olympics.”

The opening night features a battle royale for the women’s 400 metres freestyle title with defending world champion Ledecky and reigning Olympic champion Titmus going against each other for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics.

But the pair could well find themselves overshadowed by 16-year-old Canadian prodigy Summer McIntosh, who shattered the world record held by Titmus with a scorching time of three minutes, 56.08 seconds at her national trials in March.

Sunday’s appetiser and a potential showdown between the trio in Paris next year is already beginning to generate “race of the century” hype, 20 years after Ian Thorpe beat Pieter van den Hoogenband and Michael Phelps at the 2004 Athens Games.

“It feels pretty similar,” said Ledecky, whose tally of 19 gold medals at the worlds is second only to compatriot Phelps (26). “I’m always excited to get the meet started.”


Titmus, who had said last month McIntosh could feel the pressure on the big stage, added that all three women were capable of raising the bar.

“There’s going to be three women, hopefully, really close to the world record or breaking the world record,” Titmus said. “To be hunter or hunted, I’m just going to go in there to give it a red-hot crack.”

McIntosh said she was calm despite sky-high expectations and the buzz before the blockbuster race.

“I don’t really feel outside pressure. I try not to focus on it,” said the teenager, who also owns the 400m individual medley world record.

“Obviously, it’s there, but all I can do is try my hardest and train as hard as I can to be the best I can.”

France’s Leon Marchand will look to make a splash when he competes in the 400m individual medley aiming to erase Phelps’ long-standing world record of 4:03.84 set during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Romanian teenager David Popovici will attempt to lower his 100m freestyle world record after setting a blistering time of 46.86 seconds at the European championships last year.

The COVID pandemic twice forced Fukuoka to postpone hosting the championships and this year’s event is without some marquee names, including American Caeleb Dressel after the seven-times Olympic champion failed to qualify.

Britain’s triple Olympic champion Adam Peaty is skipping the meet due to mental health reasons, after also missing the 2022 worlds in Budapest with a fractured bone in his foot.

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Stephen Coates)