By Jack Tarrant
TOKYO (Reuters) – Five-time Olympic gold medallist Katie Ledecky beat one resurgent teenager but lost to another on a dramatic first day of the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships on Thursday.
The American comfortably held off Australia’s Ariarne Titmus to set a championship record in the 800 metres freestyle and win the opening race before 18-year-old Canadian Taylor Ruck set a meet record to beat Ledecky who finished third in the 200.
All eyes were on Ledecky and she did not disappoint in her first race as she opened up the championships with a scorching race in the women’s 800 freestyle to win in a time of 8:09:13.
The 17-year-old Titmus came into the final as the most likely to challenge Ledecky following her three gold medals at the Commonwealth Games earlier this year.
However, she could not stay with Ledecky and finished second almost seven seconds back, although she did set an Australian record of 18:17:07. American Leah Smith with third.
Ledecky, who won five golds at the 2014 Pan Pacs aged just 17, was shocked in the 200m as Ruck outlasted the American to clinch the gold with a meet record of 1:54:44.
The teenager, who won this event at the Commonwealth Games, said it had been daunting coming up against Ledecky in the past.
“She was kind of getting into my head but then my coach saw that it was and so he told me to focus on my lane and my race so that really helped me,” said Ruck.
Japan’s Rikako Ikee produced a national record 1:54:85 to split claim the silver, almost taking the roof off the Tatsumi International Swimming Centre and meaning Ledecky had to settle for bronze, her first medal of that colour at a major event.
“I think there is an initial disappointment with the 200,” said Ledecky. “But I think when I look at the grand scheme of things I was faster in both races than I was at this meet four years ago and so that is a positive I can take from it.”
“I have two more years to see what I can do.”
Compatriot Lilly King held off a late charge from Australian Jessica Hansen to win the women’s 100 metres breaststroke gold and maintain her dominance of the event.
The double Olympic champion is the world record holder and has not lost a 100m event since 2015.
“It’s been a while (since I have lost) and it has definitely been my baby,” said King. “I don’t know how I would take losing so I am just going to keep winning.”
Aoki Reona’s bronze was Japan’s first medal of the meet and the passionate home crowd did not have to wait long for their first gold as Yasuhiro Koseki stormed to victory in the men’s event to retain his title from four years ago.
Koseki’s time of 59.08 was enough to edge out a field that saw six swimmers go under a minute. Jake Packard of Australia took silver and Joao Luiz Gomes was third to clinch Brazil’s first medal of the meet.
There was more glory to come for the hosts as Yui Ohashi claimed gold in the women’s 400 metres individual medley.
Ohashi led from the front and dominated the race to finish in 4:33:77 and beat American Melanie Margalis into second whilst fellow Japanese Sakiko Shimizu was third.
However, her feat could not be matched by Japan’s men as Chase Kalisz of the United States beat Olympic champion Kosuke Hagino and Daiya Seto into second and third respectively.
Last year’s double world champion continued that impressive form into this meet to win in 4:07:95 and become the man for the hosts to beat leading into the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
The most exciting race of the meet was the men’s 200 metres freestyle, which saw American Townley Haas hold off compatriot Andrew Seliskar and home favourite Katsuhiro Matsumoto.
Just 0.36 of a second split the top three but 21-year-old Townley, who has become one of swimming’s rising stars, held on to add Pan Pac gold to three world and one Olympic titles.
Compatriot Jordan Wilimovsky was a surprise winner in the men’s 1500 metres freestyle in 14:46:93, edging compatriot Zane Grothe (14:48:40) and Australian Jack McLoughlin (14:55.92).
In the final race on Thursday, Australia, inspired by a last leg from Cate Campbell, claimed gold in the 4×100 metres mixed medley relay in a time of 3:38:91. Japan set a national record in winning silver while the United States finished third.
(Reporting by Jack Tarrant; Editing by Ken Ferris)