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Opinion: Australian women send message to athletes at US Olympic swimming trials

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OMAHA, Neb. — Adelaide, Australia, is 9,482 miles away from the site of the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, but Sunday, it felt like it was next door.

Australia is holding its Olympic swimming trials this week too, and two of its young stars have already sent the Americans a message from far across the Pacific with one world-record swim and another near-world record.

Their performances came little more than a day after American standout and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Lilly King offered a Joe Namath-esque prediction for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics prior to the start of the U.S. trials:

“I think the (U.S.) women, if we have the meet we can have, can win every single individual gold. I think that would be pretty cool, right? But really, just looking at it, I think that is a genuine possibility.”

How quickly did that quote circle the globe and end up on the Aussies’ locker room wall? Fast enough for 20-year-old Australian star Ariarne Titmus, Katie Ledecky’s closest rival, to offer some rather pointed thoughts of her own after a glorious evening for Australian swimming.

Not only did Titmus swim the second-fastest time ever in the 400 freestyle, coming within less than half a second of Ledecky’s world record, her 19-year-old teammate Kaylee McKeown broke American Regan Smith’s world record in the 100 backstroke.

"After Kaylee tonight, I think there's the backstroke gone,” Titmus boldly told the Sydney Morning Herald. “We have chances in a lot of other events. I feel like the Olympics is not going to be all America's way - there are other countries coming through, we'll be in the mix, we have a pretty strong team."

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Kaylee McKeown reacts after setting a new world record time in the women's 100m backstrokeat the Australian Olympic swimming trials.
Kaylee McKeown reacts after setting a new world record time in the women's 100m backstrokeat the Australian Olympic swimming trials.

Lilly King, meet Ariarne Titmus. These women are not only fast swimmers, they are fast talkers.

At the 2019 world championships, Titmus pulled off a shocking upset of Ledecky in the 400 freestyle, but Ledecky later ended up in the emergency room with what she believed was a stomach virus, so Titmus’ victory has since been accompanied by an asterisk.

There will be no asterisk next to her Sunday time of 3 minutes 56.90 seconds, so very close to Ledecky’s world record of 3:56.46 set at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

That is an eye opener. So was this comment about Ledecky by Titmus after the race: "Well, she's not going to have it all her own way. I can't control what she does. If I do the best I can and put myself in the position to win a gold medal, it's going to be a tough race.”

How worried is Ledecky, who has won five Olympic gold medals and 15 world championship titles, more than any other woman in swimming history? Asked at a Saturday press conference if the Australian trials going on concurrently might pierce her performance bubble, she shrugged and smiled.

“I haven't really thought about it,” she said. “I actually didn't even realize that they were at the exact same time as ours, or I guess a day earlier than us, until maybe yesterday. So, honestly, I mean, I'm not going to be checking results every couple hours or anything. I mean, I'm sure we'll hear about certain things because I'm sure we'll be asked about certain things, but I think my focus is on Omaha. It's not on anything else. I mean, the (Olympic) medals aren't given this week, so I don't think we have to get too caught up in what times people are going here versus anywhere else in the world right now.”

Ledecky, 24, swims the 400 freestyle here Monday.

In the first night of competition Sunday, Chase Kalisz and Jay Litherland went 1-2 in the men’s 400 individual medley to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, exactly as they did five years ago to make the 2016 Rio Olympics, where Kalisz won the silver medal and Litherland finished fifth.

In the men’s 400 freestyle, 21-year-old Kieran Smith finished first - and went fast enough in 3:44.86 to meet the qualifying standard to actually compete in Tokyo.

In the men’s 100 breaststroke, 22-year-old Michael Andrew broke the American record in his morning heat, then broke it again in the evening semifinals in 58:14. He will swim in the final Monday.

In the women’s 400 IM, 19-year-old Emma Weyant held on in a furious finish to win in 4:33.81, with 2016 Olympian Hali Flickinger, 26, just .15 seconds behind her. Theirs were the two fastest times in the world this year in the event.

Don’t tell the Australians.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: United States Olympic Trials: Swimmers get eye-opener from Australians