Tasmanian teenager Ariarne Titmus says US superstar Katie Ledecky remains firm favourite ahead of their much-anticipated showdowns at next year's Olympics.
Titmus defeated Ledecky for the first time at this year's world championships but maintains the five-time Olympic and 15-time world champion is in the box seat for their distance freestyle square-ups in Tokyo.
"Come next year, if she is at her best I cannot beat her, even with my best," Titmus said.
"Where I am now, I am not good enough to beat her best. But it will be a clean slate, it's going to be a tough battle and it's going to be exciting."
When an 18-year-old Ttimus relegated Ledecky to silver in the 400-metres in South Korea in July it not only denied the American a record fourth straight title but inflicted her first defeat in the event at a major meet since 2013.
Titmus, who has since turned 19, retains a healthy respect for the reigning 400, 800 and 1500m world record holder but is not overawed by her achievements.
"I never go up against Katie scared," she said.
"I'm always more concerned with what I know I can do and I know I can be good enough to beat her."
Asked how they get along outside the pool, Titmus, whose family moved from Launceston to Queensland in 2015, said: "We chat. She's just a normal person. She's lovely actually. We get along, like most competitors do."
Ledecky reversed the result in the 800m in Gwangju when Titmus was relegated to bronze by Simona Quadarella while another Italian, Federica Pellegrini, denied her gold in the 200m which the Launceston-born swimmer said was her biggest disappointment of the year.
"Going into the 200 ranked no.1 in the world the goal was to win that and so to get beaten was really disappointing.
"But this year's worlds won't matter next year and I learned a lot from that race."
The former Riverside and Launceston Aquatic swimmer, who now represents St Peters Western, expects to contest the same 200, 400, 800 and 4x200 relay schedule in Tokyo that she took on in Gwangju and at last year's Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast where she won three golds and one silver.
"The Olympics is a nine-day program so even with semis it is spread evenly and we train to be able to cope with that load. It should be fun.
I never go up against Katie scaredAriarne Titmus
"I think 2019 was a great practice run for the Olympics. I raced all the people I will race next year and exceeded expectations at worlds and that gives me good confidence for next year. I feel I know a bit more about how to approach the races.
"Winning the 400 and beating Katie was a big milestone but I had the most fun with the girls breaking the world record in the 200m relay.
"We have an ongoing rivalry with America so to knock them off and break the world record was so good and I did not really expect it.
"It's going to be tough in Tokyo but we have a bunch of girls that are so good and if we are all on we're going to be really hard to beat."
Titmus recorded the fastest split of 1:54.27 when she teamed up with Madison Wilson, Brianna Throssell and Emma McKeon to win the 4x200m relay world title from an American team including Ledecky.
New comp in a league of its own
The newly-launched International Swimming League could become a major game-changer for the world's top swimmers, according to Ariarne Titmus.
The Tasmanian teenager is loving being a part of the inaugural competition which seeks to broaden the sport's appeal beyond the major international meets.
With individual teams and lucrative prize money, the ISL aims to do for swimming what the Indian Premier League has done for cricket.
"It's not up to that standard yet, but it's only the first year," Titmus said.
"As it gets bigger, more money will be involved but I don't think many people worry about prize money this year, it's just about getting it started and watching it grow.
"The goal is to grow it like the Big Bash. International swimming is a massive sport at the Olympics but this could help it become more popular all year round."
Featuring four teams from America and four from Europe, the league zigzags across the Atlantic six times culminating in a grand final in Las Vegas.
Competitors accumulate points for their team from first to eighth place with prize money for the top four.
Titmus and compatriot Mitch Larkin represent the Cali Condors with the Tasmanian contesting the opening two rounds before taking a rest.
In Indianapolis, she came second in the 400m freestyle (behind Katie Ledecky), third in the 200m and fourth in a mixed 4x100m relay.
In Naples, she won the 400m and came second in the 200m with a couple of lower placings in relays.
"It's not like any other meet I've done before," Titmus said after returning home to Queensland.
"It's great to swim with other swimmers I don't know that well and really exciting for me because it's great exposure.
"It's really fast racing and good for spectators.
"Americans race a lot more than us through the year so it's good for us to have that taste of what it's like racing in the middle of the season. It's good to get used to racing and I think it's really exciting.
"It is also a bit more laid back because it's not really about times just about trying to win on the day for your team."
Titmus said it was difficult adjusting to multiple time zones which was why she opted out of some of the rounds.
"Usually when I go somewhere I just see the hotel room and the pool but at these meets the pressure is off a bit and you have a chance to see the place. That's the exciting part.
"I'm just hoping my team makes the finals."
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