Olympics: Ledecky and Titmus set up first showdown in 400m freestyle

Five-time Olympic champion Katie Ledecky will be competing against Australian rival Ariarne Titmus on July 26, 2021. PHOTOS: AFP

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Five-time Olympic champion Katie Ledecky qualified fastest for Monday's final of the 400m freestyle in the Tokyo Games which will be the first of her highly anticipated showdowns with Australian rival Ariarne Titmus.

Ledecky, the world record holder and Olympic champion in the event, finished her heat in 4:00.45 with China's Li Bingjie posting 4:01.57 and Titmus managing 4:01.66.

"It's always good to get the first race under the belt. I felt confident and relaxed going into it," said Ledecky.

"It's going to be a great race with Ariarne. I'm really excited to be in that first final tomorrow… we have put in really good work over the last five weeks or so. It's good to get out there," she added.

Titmus said she was aware of not over-exerting herself ahead of Monday's medal clash of the two biggest stars of women's swimming.

"I felt really good, probably the most relaxed I've actually felt in a while... I felt like tonight was really about trying to conserve your emotions for tomorrow morning, so I'm happy to be in one of the middle lanes in the morning," she said.

"I'd like to think I've got a bit more on the tank for the final. I'm relieved it's finally here and I know that I've done the work," she added.

World record holder Kaylee McKeown was the fastest qualifier in the women's 100m backstroke, setting a new Olympic record with her time of 57.88 seconds.

McKeown's effort in the sixth heat was the third time the Olympic record had fallen during the session after Kylie Masse of Canada and American Regan Masse also broke it.

Masse posted 58.17 in the fourth heat to break the previous Olympic Record of 58.23 set by Australian Emily Seebohm in 2012.

Smith lowered it to 57.96 before McKeown responded to the challenge.

There was also an Olympic record in the 100m breaststroke with Tatjana Schoenmaker of South Africa touching the wall in 1:05.74.

South Korea's Hwang Sun-woo was fastest in the men's 200m freestyle, qualifying for the semi-finals with a time of 1:44.62.

Japan's fourth-seeded Katsuhiro Matsumoto almost missed out on qualification and had to get through a swim-off with Germany's Lukas Martens for the 16th place.

Highly rated young Russian Kliment Kolesnikov was fastest in the men's 100 backstroke with a time of 52.15. Gold medal rivals Ryan Murphy of the United States and Russian Evgeny Rylov were tied seventh fastest in 53.22.

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