Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee

Ariarne Titmus (AUS) stunned Katie Ledecky (USA) to hand the American her first-ever defeat over 400m free at major international events. Sun Yang (CHN) claimed his 4th straight title in the same event among the men. The men’s 4x100m relay crown remained in the possession of the US team while the women’s one was passed back to Australia. The first World Record also fell right on the opening day of the swimming competition: Adam Peaty (GRB) became the first man swimming the 100m breast under 57 seconds.

Ariarne Titmus did what no other woman could in the past: beat Katie Ledecky in a 400m free race. It was a tremendous duel between the two greats, Titmus went out fast and kept leading in the first half of the event but Ledecky seemed to take the upper hand afterwards and turned first to the last lap holding a gap of 0.62sec. Then came something special: Titmus could find an extra gear to stun the American, creating a scene never seen before, that Ledecky is passed in the final leg. It happened, Titmus produced a 29.51 last 50 while Ledecky clocked 31.34 to fall behind by 1.21sec at the end. 

Titmus just did the unthinkable... - Credits: Istvan Derencsenyi

Beforehand, the top 10 fastest ever times belonged to Ledecky, Titmus’ latest effort (3:58.76) now sits on the 8th place, kind of showing that the queen was a bit off her best this evening. The race for the bronze was no less exciting as Leah Smith of the US chased Hungarian prodigy Ajna Kesely from the start and managed to out-touch her by 0.02sec at the wall. 

Earlier, the session kicked off with another gold for Sun Yang who won the 400m free for the fourth time in a row. The podium was the same as two years ago in Budapest, the Chinese managed to beat Mack Horton and Gabriele Detti once more. While the Aussie and the Italian came somewhat faster than in 2017 – and a similar gap separated them: 0.06 here, 0.08 back then –, and Sun was a bit slower (3:41.28 in 2017, 3:42.44 now), still, he bested his rivals with ease. 

Sun shone again – Credits: Istvan Derencsenyi

The men’s 4x100m free relay was a true speed festival, it was amazing to see that the field got a lot faster in two years. While in 2017 seven swimmers clocked 47sec splits, not 19 (!) were in that range. The US quartet won with a new Championship Record (3:09.06), a brilliant feat as they brought down the shiny CR from Rome 2009 and was just 0.82 shy of their 2008 WR. Zach Apple threw in a 46.86 split in the second leg, a big boost for the team which gained 0.91sec on the runners-up Russians and the Aussies came third. It was amazing to see Nathan Adrian back to the pool in full power: in January he was diagnosed with testicular cancer, underwent surgeries but returned to practice and practically swam his way out of desperation, ending up on the top of the podium here in Gwangju. One cannot wish for any happier end.

Adrian&Co: the US boys clocked the best ever time in textile

In the women’s relay Australia avenged their defeat in Budapest where the US reached the wall first. It took a thriller to get this outcome: at the halfway mark the US led but Canada took over at 300m while the Aussies turned second pushing the US back to third. Still, it came down to a showdown between Cate Campbell (AUS) and Simone Manuel (USA). Both produced an amazing homecoming leg, Campbell – missing from the show in 2017 – stormed to a truly incredible 51.45 split, Manuel also got inside 52sec but at the end it was a clear win for the women from Down Under. Canada clinched the bronze comfortably ahead of the Netherlands. 

It's coming home! The Aussies in the finishing phase

Though the title battles were in the spotlight, a couple of outstanding swims channelled a great deal of attention towards the semis as well. Above all, Adam Peaty’s historical 100m breast which saw the first male ever covering this distance inside 57sec. The British Lion roared again, beat his world record from last summer by 0.22 (56.88 is the new mark), a jaw-dropping performance right on the first day.

Business as usual: Adam Peaty routinely cracks the WR in either of the 50m or 100m in each summer since 2014

Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu also showed something special in the 200m IM where she is set to win a 4th straight title. She clocked 2:07.02 in the morning, the fastest heat swim ever and 2:07.17 in the evening, the 7th and 8th fastest time respectively in the all-time ranks. She admittedly eyes her 2015 WR (2:06.12) tomorrow but she might barely get a push from the others as she looked way better than the others. 

On the contrary, women of the meet in 2017, Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom was already pushed by Canada’s Margaret Macneil who finished just 0.23sec behind her in the SF – Sjostrom was just 0.23sec better this evening. In the men’s 50m fly five swimmers already got under 23sec, as many as in the final in Budapest, and USA’s Caeleb Dressel was way faster than the winning time in 2017.

Sarah is ready to rock once again

Quotes

Sun Yang, CHN, gold, 400m free:

“I won the title for the 4th time in a row. It was not easy for a swimmer like me, because at my age, rivals are of a younger generation. I just won in order to pass my fighting spirit to the younger swimmers. So it is a good start for me and also for the younger swimmers in the team.”

Gabriele Detti, ITA, silver, 400m free:

“I lost the silver, because I didn’t see Mac Horton. The gap between me and Sun was not as big as it was two years ago. I’m in shape and feel good for the 800m freestyle race, which I won two years ago.”

Ariarne Titmus, AUS, gold, 400m free:

“That’s not something that happens every day. I never thought I’d find myself in a situation where I’d be mowing Katie down. She’s such a champion. I’m pretty excited now. I’m just kind of doing this job like the others, trying to do my best every day. Tonight it was enough to beat her, but she is a great champion and I’m sure she’ll be back next year. The time wasn’t a surprise for me, I came here to fight as hard as I could and have everything during that last 50m so I’m really happy.”

Katie Ledecky, USA, silver, 400m free:

“I just got to the last turn and felt like I tightened up. My legs were just dead, and obviously Ariarne took advantage of that and had a heck of a swim. Tonight I felt great. Honestly, my physical preparation has been great for this meet. Really expected to be a lot faster than that. I’ve only raced somebody that’s gone under four minutes two or three times. It’s an unfamiliar race for me. It’s something I can’t really replicate back home when I swim meets.”

Adam Peaty, GBR, new WR in the 100m breast:

“It feels incredible! I’ve been chasing that for three years now. Ever since I touched the wall in Rio I knew I could go faster. I said this morning I wasn’t going to chase 56, I was going to let it come to me, and that’s exactly what we’ve done. I’ve used all the team around me and have some great support staff at British Swimming, so a massive, massive thanks to them, especially Mel who’s been there for 10 years, so it’s a very special journey that we’ve had.

“But there’s still a job to do tomorrow. I’ve come here to win a World title and that’s tomorrow and that’s still my main focus, so this was just a bonus and I’ll use this energy tomorrow.”

Nathan Adrian, USA, gold, 4x100m free:

"I'm very grateful to be here racing. It beats the heck out of being home, waiting for test results, waiting for another surgery."

Vlad Morozov, RUS, silver, 4x100m free:

“It was OK for the first swim of the meet. My goal was to beat Blake Pieroni on the second leg. Actually I didn’t succeed, touched off second but it was close.”

Kliment Kolesnikov (RUS), silver, 4x100m free:

“This is my first medal from the long course World Championships. I’m glad to be a part of the team. I tried my best not to let the guys down.”