Ariarne Titmus was elevated into the rarest of company in Tokyo on Wednesday, joining swimming legend Shane Gould and Ian Thorpe as the only Australians ever to win the Olympic 200-400m freestyle double – but she had to keep her wits about her.
Everyone expected that the challenge would come from the defending champion in the 200m freestyle, Katie Ledecky, but seemingly the American is slightly off her game in Tokyo and had her mind on other things – namely the 1500m freestyle final five events later.
As it turned out, the real danger came from an unsuspected quarter, Hong Kong. It has never won an Olympic swimming medal but Siobhan Haughey has dipped under 1min55sec each year for the last three years and has quietly risen to No.13 in the world. While Titmus was stalking Ledecky, Haughey was hunting both of them.
She attempted to win the race the way Ledecky was expected to, by leading out hard and attempting to burn off her rivals. Titmus was always expected to back her ferocious finishing speed but still, anytime a swimmer slips to fourth place at the halfway mark of a 200m race, things are looking at least a little worrying.
But, as expected, ‘The Terminator' made her move through the third 50m.
"I was trying to mow her down but my legs were starting to go," Titmus revealed.
She turned at the 150m mark still half a second off the lead. Ledecky was only one place behind but she appeared spent. The real race lay in front of her - Haughey and Yang Junjan.
She passed the Chinese champion. Now there was only Haughey positioned between her and swimming greatness. She fought hard, digging in. She wasn't going away. If Titmus wanted this, she would have to be prepared to pay the price. But those who knew the 20-year-old from Launceston knew that would never be an issue. Imperceptibly at first, then more noticeably, Titus inched ahead.
In the end only .42sec separated them but the only number that mattered was the "1" besides the Australian's name. Titmus 1:53.50, Haughey 1:52.92 and Canadian Penny Oleksiak, the joint defending 100m freestyle champion from Rio, finished strong for bronze in 1:54.70.
For the full wrap of this morning’s action from the pool, visit the AOC’s website.