France’s Leon Marchand crushed Michael Phelps’ last remaining individual world record, taking the 400m individual medley on the first day of the eight-day world swimming championships.
Also Sunday, Australian Ariarne Titmus won the 400m freestyle over Katie Ledecky by 3.35 seconds, breaking the world record by seven tenths. Australia won four of the five finals Sunday.
Marchand, a 21-year-old who trains at Arizona State under Phelps’ career-long coach Bob Bowman, clocked 4 minutes, 2.50 seconds in the 400m IM in Fukuoka, Japan.
He broke Phelps’ record of 4:03.84 from the first of his eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Phelps held the record since 2002, giving him the longest world record reign in any Olympic event since World War II, according to Swimming Stats.
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“That was insane,” Marchand repeated in interviews. “That was one of the most painful things I did. … The best is yet to come.”
Last year at worlds, Marchand swam the then-second-fastest time in history, missing Phelps’ world record by 44 hundredths. Phelps was in attendance Sunday and called the race on Peacock.
“I don’t want to be compared to Phelps all the time,” Marchand said before last year’s worlds, according to Agence-France Presse. “I’m very, very far from him. And Bowman didn’t just have Phelps, he had a lot of other [star swimmers]. Let’s say I want to create my own path, I don’t want to follow Phelps’.”
Later this week, Marchand is entered to swim the 200m butterfly (where he won silver last year), the 200m breaststroke (he’s the fourth-fastest man in history) and the 200m IM (reigning world champion). He may drop the 200m breast since the semifinals start 20 minutes before Thursday’s 200m IM final.
Phelps, who met Marchand for the first time after Sunday’s prelims, believed after last year’s performance that he would soon be wiped off the individual world record book.
“I’m just happy I have the longest-standing world record,” Phelps said seconds after Marchand touched the wall. “I said to Bob earlier this year, ‘I think this kid has the potential to break four minutes.’”
Phelps once held world records in the 200m free, 100m and 200m flies and 200m and 400m IMs. When he retired in 2016, he still held records for the butterflies, but American Caeleb Dressel and Hungarian Kristof Milak broke them in 2019.
Phelps still has world records as part of relays (4x100m free, now the longest-standing world record and last remaining one of the 21 event world records from the 2008 Olympics, and 4x200m free).
Earlier Sunday, Titmus won a 400m free that included the three fastest women in history. The Aussie, whose world record was broken in March by 16-year-old Canadian Summer McIntosh, took that record back by clocking 3:55.38.
“I came in tonight and just tried to be fearless and race like I was that little girl again,” Titmus, who said that a lot going on in her personal life was “overriding” her swimming early in 2023, said on Australia’s Nine Network. “It’s been a tough year for us. I feel like it’s all come together right at the perfect moment. I feel like this victory is probably my most satisfying.”
Ledecky, who took silver to Titmus at the 2019 Worlds and Tokyo Olympics, was pleased in taking silver again for her 23rd career world medal. Titmus skipped last year’s worlds — won by Ledecky — to focus on the Commonwealth Games.
“[Titmus] just took off at the 200, and I just didn’t quite have what I wanted on the back [half of the race],” Ledecky said on Peacock. “I’m excited for all those opportunities we’re going to get to race again.”
McIntosh was passed by Ledecky and New Zealand’s Erika Fairweather in the final lap to finish fourth.
“Obviously I’m not overly happy with that race, but coming out of every race I just know there’s always a lot to learn, good or bad,” McIntosh said on CBC. “I’m just going to try and gain a lot of momentum heading into Paris next year and hopefully can find my groove again. Everyone has off races, and I think that’s where you learn the most.”
Australia swept the men’s and women’s 4x100m free relays for the first time at a worlds (or an Olympics).
The women smashed their world record by 1.73 seconds, clocking 3:27.96 and distancing silver medalist U.S. by 3.97 seconds.
In the men’s relay, anchor Kyle Chalmers, the 2016 Olympic 100m free champ, moved Australia from third to first with the fastest split of the 32-swimmer field.
The U.S. took bronze, 65 hundredths behind Australia and 32 hundredths behind silver medalist Italy.
Great Britain posted what would have been the fastest time of the morning heats but was disqualified for leaving the block too early on an exchange.
Australian Sam Short, 19, won the men’s 400m free in 3:40.68, edging Olympic gold medalist Ahmed Hafnaoui of Tunisia by two hundredths with the world’s best time in 11 years. Short was seven tenths under world record pace at the 350-meter mark.
“Bloody amazing,” said Short, who underwent back surgery for melanoma immediately after missing the 800m and 1500m free finals at last year’s worlds. “I kind of had goosebumps thinking I was in the race with [the Olympic gold medalist].”
Americans Kieran Smith, the Olympic bronze medalist, and David Johnston were ninth and 17th in the heats. It was the second time in history that no U.S. man made the 400m free final.
Australian Kaylee McKeown was disqualified after the women’s 200m IM semifinals for what appeared to be an illegal backstroke-to-breaststroke turn. McKeown took silver behind American Alex Walsh last year. Walsh was the fastest qualifier into Monday’s final.
Swimming worlds finals continue Monday at 7 a.m. ET, live on Peacock.
Titmus, Ledecky duel in 400m free race of century
In an epic battle between the last three WR holders in the event, Ariarne Titmus breaks free with a WR time of 3:55.38 to take down Katie Ledecky (silver) and Summer McIntosh (4th) to win the 400m free world title.