American Katie Ledecky and Australian Elijah Winnington gained early redemption for Olympic 400m freestyle disappointments on the first evening of the World Swimming Championships Saturday in Budapest.
Ledecky, 25, had been eclipsed in the women’s 400m freestyle by Australian Ariarne Titmus, who took the world title in 2019, the Olympic title last year and the world record last month.
That left Ledecky second best in an event she had dominated but with Titmus focussing on the Commonwealth Games, Ledecky broke her own world championship record as she held off a determined challenge from Canadian 15-year-old Summer McIntosh.
Ledecky won in 3min 58.15sec, three-quarters of a second outside the world record but 0.19sec inside her old championship mark.
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McIntosh became the third woman to dip under four minutes in a textile suit. American Leah Smith took bronze in 4:02.08.
In the men’s race that opened the evening, Winnington won in 3:41.22, the fastest time in the event in a decade, to edge German Lukas Martens by 1.63sec with Brazilian Guilherme Pereira da Costa third.
Winnington, 22, had gone to the Olympics as the favourite in the men’s 400m free but slumped to seventh in a final won by surprising Tunisian Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia, who did not enter Saturday’s event.
In the women’s race, Ledecky collected her 16th world championship gold.
“It feels good," she said. “It’s the fastest I’ve ever been at worlds. I’m really happy with that and excited about the rest of the week.
She said losing the world record “wasn’t an added motivation."
“If I didn’t have motivation before, that would be a problem."
She said the competition was ramping up with the Paris Olympics two years away.
“Summer is now in the sub-4 minute club, I will have my work cut out for me, these races are only going to get harder."
After his race, Winnington said he had been determined to enjoy the experience.
“I wasn’t focusing on results," the 22-year-old told journalists.
“You probably saw me walking out, I was looking around and just enjoying the experience, it’s my first world championships, my second international individual final apart from the Olympics, so this time around I just wanted to enjoy it and clearly just enjoying it brings out the best in me."
Winnington went out fast and was under world-record pace at both 100m and 200m.
“Fun is fast, and that’s what brought it out tonight," he said, adding that he went out fast to “bleed" his rivals Martens and Austrian Felix Auboeck.
Martens came through to take the lead after 250m and was ahead after 300m, and 0.8sec inside the world-record split.
In the morning heats, Winnington faded and was caught by Auboeck at the end. This time the Australian had something in reserve and surged past the wilting Martens in the final 50m.
“I don’t want to sound cocky but I knew in my mind I was going to be world champion that I was going to outswim Lukas next to me," said Winnington.
Pereira da Costa surged from fifth to third on the last lap while Auboeck was unable to repeat his blazing finish.
The time was the fifth-fastest ever and the best since stream-lined body suits were banned.
The victory ended decade-long Asian domination of the event.
South Korean Park Tae-Hwan won in 2011 and China’s Sun Yang took the next four.
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