MELBOURNE: Ariarne Titmus’s Olympic feats may never have come to pass without the inspiration of the barrier-breaking Katie Ledecky, the Australian swimmer has said.

The pair’s rivalry electrified the Tokyo Games, where Titmus edged Ledecky for gold in the thrilling 400 metres freestyle but was second to the American in the 800m.

Swimming fans will hope for another battle royale at the July 26-Aug. 11 Olympics in Paris should the duo confirm their places at national trials next month.

Titmus has continued to push boundaries in the 400m, taking the world record at last year’s World Championships in Fukuoka, and said she had 27-year-old Ledecky to thank for inspiring her as a junior swimmer.

“She kind of laid out a footprint for me… The way she was racing I aspired to be like that,” Titmus said in a podcast published by Code Sports. “She was the first woman that really showed the world what you could do when you race fearlessly and take a race out hard.

“If I didn’t have her to chase there’s no way I would be the athlete that I am because I was wanting to break barriers like she was.” Titmus took Ledecky’s 400m crown as a rising teenager at the 2019 World Championships in Gwangju but the Tasmanian “Terminator” is now 23 and helping to inspire the next generation.

“I feel like now it’s full circle. I’m probably playing that role for younger girls now as well,” she said.

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“So I have Katie to thank for that.” Titmus also took the 200m freestyle gold at Tokyo, becoming the first Australian woman to complete the 200m-400m Olympic double since Shane Gould at the 1972 Munich Games.

Australia will send a formidable swim team to Paris with genuine hopes of challenging the United States’ supremacy in the Olympic pool, particularly in the relays.

Australia’s women won the 4x100m freestyle relay at Tokyo and remain the benchmark heading into Paris, said Titmus.

“I think maybe our women’s freestyle, well, it’s definitely the best in the world,” she said. “To get on the team for the freestyle at the moment is a tough gig.”

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