Aussie girls Ariarne Titmus and Kiah Melverton will make their Pan Pac debuts in Tokyo on day one of the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships at the Tokyo Tatsumi International Swimming Centre and they could not be facing a tougher initiation than the No 1 female swimmer in the world in American superstar Katie Ledecky.
The women’s 800 metres and the men’s 1500 metres timed finals will go hand in hand on the opening night of what will be a jam-packed opening night’s finals – with the reverse distance events – the new Olympic races on the final night.
Australia has had a resurgence in women’s distance swimming in recent years and the addition of the 1500m freestyle (women) and the 800 freestyle (men) for Tokyo 2020 will add another dimension to the program.
And it has been Titmus, the 17-year-old former Tasmanian schoolgirl who has led the way with the likes of Melverton and fellow TSS Aquatic recruit from Coffs Harbour, Madeline Gough and Noosa open water and 1500m swimmer Kareena Lee, who have jumped aboard for the ride.
Gough will swim in the morning heat, trying to swim a personal best and force her way into the top eight times.
Titmus will be looking to dip under her pb of 8 minutes 20.02 (the time she swam to win the Commonwealth Games) in the 16-lap journey, vowing to focus on her own race, knowing Ledecky is in a class of her own.
With maybe, just maybe a chance of breaking Jess Ashwood’s 2016 Australian record of 8:18.14.
It is hard to imagine that it has been 40 years since Australia’s own Tracey Wickham set a world record of 8:24.62 for the 800 metres world record at the Edmonton Commonwealth Games – a mark that lasted over 10 years.
A world record that has been lowered five times by the incomparable Ledecky who has taken it from 8:13.86 to 8:04.79 in three years.
Australia has only won the event at the Pan Pacs and over the 12 times it’s been swum since 1985 – Julie McDonald in 1987 in a monster battle to beat three-time winner Janet Evans in Brisbane and Hayley Lewis who also upset American Brooke Bennett – a two time winner – in Atlanta in 1995 – are the only Aussies to fly the flag.
Meanwhile Titmus has by-passed the 200 metres on the same day, as has Emma McKeon – leaving it to Mikkayla Sheridan, Brianna Throssell and Maddie Groves to fight it out for the top two Australians into the fastest eight – with the charter nations Australia, Japan, the USA and Canada all allowed two in the final and one in the B final under the Pan Pac rules.
Pan Pac women’s 800m freestyle champions
2014 Katie Ledecky (USA)
2010 Katie Ziegler (USA)
2006 Katie Ziegler (USA)
2002 Diana Munz (USA)
1999 Brooke Bennett (USA)
1997 Brooke Bennett (USA)
1995 Hayley Lewis (AUS)
1993 Janet Evans (USA)
1991 Janet Evans (USA)
1989 Kim Brown USA
1987 Julie McDonald (AUS)
1985 Janet Evans (USA)
The men’s 1500m freestyle is a different story with Australia asserting its dominance from 1985 through 2002 with Michael McKenzie kick –starting the stretch with two wins before Kieren Perkins and Grant Hackett went back-to-back three-peats.
The Aussies haven’t won since Hackett in 2002 with the US breaking the ice with Conor Jaeger swimming through the Gold Coast rain to win their first gold in 2014 – two years before his Olympic silver in Rio.
And it could well be a classic Australia V USA contest in 2018 with Commonwealth Games gold medallist Jack McLoughlin up against former 10km marathon world champion from Kazan (2015) in Jordan Wilimovsky – fourth in Rio.
Throw in American Robert Finke and it has shades of 1976 when US pair Brian Goodell and Bobby Hackett ganged up on Aussie Steve Holland to steal the Olympic quinella from the world record holder.
Pan Pac 1500 freestyle winners:
2014 Conor Jaeger (USA)
2010 Ryan Cochrane (CAN)
2006 Tae-Hwan Park (KOR)
2002 Grant Hackett (AUS)
1999 Grant Hackett (AUS)
1997 Grant Hackett (AUS)
1995 Kieren Perkins (AUS)
1993 Kieren Perkins (AUS)
1991 Kieren Perkins (AUS)
1987 Michael McKenzie (AUS)
1985 Michael McKenzie (AUS)
The men’s 200m freestyle will see the clash of the giants with Australia’s Olympic champions Kyle Chalmers and Mack Horton up against fellow Commonwealth Games relay gold medallists and Bond training partners Alex Graham and Elijah Winnington as well as young guns, St Peters training partners Clyde Lewis and Jack Cartwright also in the mix, with only the fastest two Aussies advancing to the final.
In other finals on day one, Australia should figure prominently with Jess Hansen and Leiston Pickett will line up in the women’s 100m breaststroke with US Olympic champion and world record holder Lilli King the number one seed ahead of team mate Katie Meile.
Hansen won the Pan Pac Trial after spending time with King and coach Ray Looze at the University of Indiana in the lead up to the Trials and may well return for a second stint.
In the men’s 100m breaststoke Australia’s top seed, Olympian Jake Packard should be in the final with young team mate, fellow Queenslander Zac Stubblety-Cook looking to swim his best to make the top eight.
The final event of the night will see Mixed 4x100m medley relay teams line up in the newest Olympic event with the US, Canada, Australia and Japan all fielding teams that could well be in the medal mix in Tokyo 2020.