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Katie Ledecky might be an underdog in Tokyo

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Whether or not she’ll admit it, Katie Ledecky has heard the noise from down under.

Australian swimmer Ariarne Titmus fired a warning shot earlier this week, unleashing a 3:56.90 to rattle Ledecky’s world record of 3:56.46 set at the Rio Olympics. It marks the second-fastest time in history.

The fastest Ledecky has been this year – and in a while – has been 3:59.25, set back in April at the Mission Viejo Pro Swim. At the US trials, Ledecky touched in at a 4:01.27 to punch her ticket to Tokyo and make the Olympic team. But it was hardly the warning shot that Titmus sent a couple of days earlier. 

“I thought I’d go a little faster than that, so I was a little surprised,” Ledecky said after the race. “I’ll take it for now.”

While never one to be considered an underdog, Ledecky could very well find herself in the position in both the 200 and 400 freestyles come Tokyo.

“[Ledecky’s] not going to have it all her own way,” Titmus told the Sydney Morning Herald after her own 400 freestyle. “I can’t control what she does, if I do the best I can and put myself in the position to win a gold medal, it’s going to be a tough race.” 

Titmus beat Ledecky in the 400 freestyle at the 2019 World Championships. But that race has been marked by an asterisk, as Ledecky was ill at that meet and wound up missing races. Many dismissed it as a one-time thing.

But Titmus has only gotten faster since then, with her latest time in the event being 1.86 seconds faster than her personal best at those worlds. She then proved her swim in the 400 freestyle wasn’t a fluke by coming within hundredths of the longest-standing women’s world record, set by Frederica Pellegrini in the “super-suit” era, in the 200 freestyle with a time of 1:53.09.  

Ledecky, however, has not given much thought to what’s been going on at the Australian trials.

“I’m not going to be checking results every couple hours or anything,” she said Saturday. “The medals aren’t given this week, so I don’t think we have to get too caught up in what times people are going here versus anywhere else in the world right now.”