Why Is the World’s Best Swimmer Not Swimming at the Worlds?

Titmus’s 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.”

Titmus’s unusual decision to miss the world championships is only the latest demonstration of the self-belief that made her a two-time Olympic champion before her 21st birthday.

Born in Launceston, a small city in Tasmania, an island south of mainland Australia, Titmus was in the water from an early age. “We always had backyard pools,” she said. In 2008, a wide-eyed Titmus watched as the Australian swimmers Stephanie Rice and Libby Trickett starred at the Beijing Olympics. “I was just glued to the TV,” she said.

The seven-year-old Titmus immediately joined a local swim club and began racing. Her progress was as swift as her swimming. “Every year, I went to the next thing and before I knew it, I was on the national team,” she said.

Her next step was not quite so simple. Tasmania, with a population of half a million, lacked the swimming facilities and coaches a talented young swimmer needed to reach a truly elite level. Titmus’s parents, Steve and Robyn, floated the idea of relocating to support their daughter’s nascent career, but as a teenager Titmus was initially resistant. “I was so content with my life down there, with my friends and school and everything,” she said.

But after making the Australian team for the junior world championships in 2015, Titmus had a realization. Swimming on her own in a lane at a public pool in Launceston, following the instructions of a faraway coach texting her a plan for each day’s training session, Titmus resolved that she had to chase her dream.

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