France’s Leon Marchand broke Michael Phelps’ last remaining individual world record by winning the 400m individual medley on day one of the eight-day World Swimming Championships.
Also on Sunday, Australia’s Ariarne Titmus won the 400m freestyle ahead of Katie Ledecky by 3.35 seconds, beating the world record by seven tenths. Australia won four of the five finals on Sunday.
Marchand, a 21-year-old who trains at Arizona State under Phelps’ longtime coach Bob Bowman, ran 4 minutes and 2.50 seconds in the IM 400m in Fukuoka, Japan.
He broke Phelps’ record of 4:03.84 in the first of his eight gold medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympics. According to Swimming Stats, Phelps had held the record since 2002, giving him the longest reign at an Olympic event since World War II.
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“That was crazy,” Marchand repeated in interviews. “It was one of the most painful things I’ve done. … The best is yet to come.”
Last year at the World Championships, Marchand swam what was then the second fastest time in history, beating Phelps’ world record by 44 hundredths. Phelps was present on Sunday and called the race on Peacock.
“I don’t want to be compared to Phelps all the time,” Marchand said ahead of last year’s World Championships, according to Agence-France Presse. “I’m very, very far from him. And Bowman didn’t just have Phelps, he had many others [star swimmers]. Let’s say I want to go my own way, I don’t want to follow Phelps’.
Later this week, Marchand will be entered for the 200m butterfly (where he won silver last year), the 200m breaststroke (he is the fourth fastest man in history) and the 200m IM (reigning world champion). He might forego the 200m breastline as the semifinals start 20 minutes before Thursday’s 200m IM final.
Phelps, who first met Marchand after Sunday’s preliminary rounds, believed after last year’s performance he would soon be erased from the singles world record book.
“I’m just glad I have the longest world record,” Phelps said seconds after Marchand hit the wall. “Earlier this year I said to Bob, ‘I think this kid has the potential to break four minutes.'”
Phelps once held world records in the 200m free run, 100m and 200m fly, and 200m and 400m IM. He still held records for the butterflies when he retired in 2016, but American Caeleb Dressel and Hungarian Kristof Milak broke them in 2019.
Phelps still holds world records in the relay (4 x 100m free, now the oldest world record and last remaining of the 21 world records set at the 2008 Olympics, and 4 x 200m free).
The previous Sunday, Titmus won a 400m free run that featured the three fastest women in history. The Australian, whose world record was broken by 16-year-old Canada’s Summer McIntosh in March, reclaimed that record in 3:55.38.
“I came in tonight and just tried to be fearless and race like I was that little girl again,” Titmus told Australia’s Nine Network, who said a lot of events in her personal life “overwhelmed” her swim at the start of 2023. “It’s been a tough year for us. I feel like everything comes together at the perfect moment. I feel like this win is probably the most satisfying for me.”
Ledecky, who took silver against Titmus at the 2019 World Championships and Tokyo Olympics, was delighted to claim silver again for her 23rd career world medal. Titmus skipped last year’s World Championship – which Ledecky won – to focus on the Commonwealth Games.
“[Titmus] I just started at 200 and I just didn’t quite have what I wanted on my back [half of the race]said Ledecky on Peacock. “I look forward to all the opportunities that will come our way to race again.”
McIntosh was passed by Ledecky and New Zealand’s Erika Fairweather on the final lap for fourth.
Australia won the men’s and women’s 4x100m free relay for the first time at a World Championships (or an Olympics).
The women smashed their world record by 1.73 seconds, running 3:27.96 and beating Silver medalist USA by 3.97 seconds.
In the men’s relay, anchor Kyle Chalmers, 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the 100m freestyle, edged Australia from third to first with the fastest split of the 32-swimmer field.
The USA took bronze, 65 hundredths behind Australia and 32 hundredths behind silver medalist Italy.
Great Britain set the fastest time of the morning heats but were disqualified for leaving the block early at a change.
19-year-old Australia’s Sam Short won the men’s 400m free run in 3:40.68, beating Olympic gold medalist Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia by two-hundredths with a world-best time in 11 years. At the 350 meter mark, Short was seven tenths below the world record pace.
“Damn great,” said Short, who underwent back surgery for melanoma immediately after missing the 800m and 1500m free finals at last year’s World Championships. “I kind of had goosebumps because I thought I was going to be there [the Olympic gold medalist].”
Americans Kieran Smith, the Olympic bronze medalist, and David Johnston finished ninth and 17th in the heats. It was the second time in history that no US man reached the 400m final.
Australia’s Kaylee McKeown was disqualified after the women’s 200m IM semifinal for what appeared to be an illegal turn from backstroke to breaststroke. McKeown took silver last year behind American Alex Walsh. Walsh was the fastest qualifier in Monday’s final.
The World Swimming Championships finals resume Monday at 7 p.m. ET, live on Peacock.
Titmus and Ledecky duel in the 400m freewheel of the century
In an epic battle between the event’s last three WR titleholders, Ariarne Titmus prevailed with a WR time of 3:55.38, defeating Katie Ledecky (silver) and Summer McIntosh (4th) to win the World 400m Free Run title.