TOKYO — In one of the most anticipated events of the Tokyo Olympics, American swimming standout Katie Ledecky lost to her Australian rival Ariarne Titmus by .67 of a second in the women’s 400-meter freestyle.
Titmus won gold in 3:56.69, the first Olympic medal for the 20-year-old who surged past Ledecky in the last 50 meters. Li Bingjie of China won bronze.
"I think I flipped at the 300 and saw she was right there and it was going to be a fight to the finish. I fought tooth and nail," Ledecky told NBC's Michele Tafoya after the race. "It was an awesome swim by her."
The loss for the 24-year-old Ledecky was not entirely unexpected, as Titmus, 20, has been gaining on her the past few years. With five Olympic gold medals and 15 world championship titles, Ledecky remains the most decorated female swimmer of all-time.
"We're really friendly and she said she couldn't have done it without me," Ledecky said. "I think it's really great for the sport. Fast field overall."
Ledecky still has the 200, 800 and 1,500 freestyle events remaining, and the U.S. women’s 4x200 relay. She is heavily favored to win gold in the 800 and 1,500.
Ledecky and Titmus share a little history. Ledecky has been the world-record holder in the 400 for nearly seven years, last lowering her mark at the Rio Olympics five years ago. She is a three-time world champion in the 400 but settled for silver at the 2019 worlds behind Titmus while battling a stomach virus.
Last month at the U.S. Olympic trials, Ledecky’s qualifying time was an underwhelming 4:01.27, more than two seconds off her best time of the year, nearly five seconds slower than her world record of 3:56.46 and well behind the 3:56.90 Titmus swam at the Australian trials that were going on basically at the same time.
Swimming in different heats in Sunday night’s preliminaries, Ledecky posted a qualifying time of 4:00.45. Several minutes later, Titmus came in a bit slower in 4:01.66. China’s Li Bingjie, swimming in Ledecky’s heat, actually qualified ahead of Titmus in 4:01.57.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Katie Ledecky wins silver for USA in 400 freestyle at Tokyo Olympics