Why is Australia’s Ariarne Titmus not swimming at the world’s?

When the women’s 400-meter freestyle final is swum and won Saturday at swimming’s world championships in Budapest, Hungary, the reigning world and Olympic champion in the event, the race’s new world record-holder, will be halfway around the world — and fast asleep.

“I’ll definitely be asleep,” Ariarne Titmus, 21, said earlier this month. (The race will start at 1:30 a.m. in Australia.) “I’ll probably look up the results, look at the splits, but I really won’t pay too much attention to it.”

Despite breaking the world record less than a month ago, despite being in some of the best form of her young career and despite the prospect of a showdown in Hungary with her biggest rival, Katie Ledecky of the United States, Titmus will be absent from the most significant international swim meet of the year. Her reason is simple: Titmus decided she didn’t need to be there.

“I just really wanted to think about the long term,” she said. “And I really don’t care — it doesn’t bother me that I’m not going to be in the headlines or the media or the spotlight when the world championships are on. That’s not why I swim. I swim because I love it and I want to perform on the biggest stage, which for me is the Olympic Games.” Titmus’ decision to skip the world championships is a bold one.

She first rose to prominence with her performance at the last worlds, in 2019, when she upset Ledecky, a 15-time world champion and the three-time defending champion in the 400-meter freestyle, to win gold in the event. Two years later, Titmus cemented her reputation as the best middle-distance swimmer in the world at last summer’s Tokyo Olympics, beating Ledecky to gold medals in the 200- and 400-meter freestyle events (Ledecky won the 800 and 1,500) and adding an individual silver and a relay bronze to her impressive medal haul.

Most swimmers in her position, then, might have been raring to defend their world title against Ledecky, who has dominated the sport for a decade. But Titmus is not most swimmers. Instead of racing at the worlds, she will contest the Commonwealth Games, a sporting gathering of former British colonies, when they begin in England in late July. (The United States does not participate in that competition.) And it is unclear when she and Ledecky will line up against each other again; last week, Ledecky indicated she had decided against travelling to Australia in August for a two-nation meet billed as the Duel in the Pool, which would otherwise have hosted a potential Ledecky vs.

Titmus rematch. All of which means there may be only a handful of races involving two of the world’s best swimmers — perhaps the most exciting rivalry in the sport right now — before the next Olympics in Paris in 2024.

Titmus’ coach, Dean Boxall, said he and Titmus were well aware of the chatter about her scheduling decisions, as well as of the appetite for more Titmus-Ledecky showdowns. “They’re not in the inner sanctum,” Boxall said of the outside voices. “The inner sanctum has a plan. She knows what she needs to do. She knows it’s all about the Olympics.

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