Ariarne Titmus is on top of the world

The Aussie golden girl is swimming "for the joy of it" in the lead-up to the Paris Olympics

Ariarne Titmus might not just be our golden girl, but the best swimmer in the world.

At the Australian swimming trials in Brisbane this year, she beat the competition in every race she entered and smashed the 200-metre world record. It fulfilled a childhood dream – not necessarily to be the best in the world, but to be the best swimmer she could be, which as the records keep falling, seem like pretty much the same thing.

Chasing more than world records

“The world record is a bonus,” she said on the night of the 200-metre trial. “I’m happy to finally … put together a swim that I know I’m capable of. It’s exciting to do it in my hometown in front of the hometown crowd, but it gives me really good confidence for the Olympics.”

The Paris Olympics will be her testing ground.

Ariarne first captured global attention at the 2019 World Championships, when she beat American swimmer Katie Ledecky (a 15-time world champ) to the 400-metre freestyle gold.

Ariarne, still in the pool, punches the air to celebrate her win.
Ariarne celebrating another win at the Australian Swimming Championships in Adelaide in 2022. (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

Next came her 2021 Tokyo Olympic victories, usurping the US star again in both the 400 and 200-metre events. After she stretched into the blue for that unfathomably long, lithe final stroke in the 400-metres, it was hard to know where to look. Was it at Ariarne, emerging from the pool, composed, barely breathless, to graciously thank her rival. “I wouldn’t be here without her,” she said. “She set the standard.” Or at the antics of her instantly famous, kooky coach, Dean Boxall, in the stands. Or at the live cross on our telly screens to the Gold Coast, where her dad Steve, mum Robyn, little sister Mia and grandparents Sandra and Kevin hugged and kissed, hoarse from cheering, in a rush of adrenaline, laughter and tears.

It took Steve back to the first national championship race Ariarne – or Arnie as her family affectionately calls her – won, at 13, representing her then home state of Tasmania.

“I remember when Arnie touched the wall,” he told The Weekly, “we were going nuts cheering, and these Victorian kids sitting in the stands in front of us turned around and looked at us as if to say, ‘What? A Tasmanian’s not meant to win. This is crazy’.”

There was a collective double-take. “No one knew who I was,” Ariarne says, with a joyful sparkle in her eyes.

Ariarne sits on the wooden steps of her family home with sister Mia, mum Robyn, dad Steve, and Lucy, the family dog.
Ariarne with sister Mia, mum Robyn, dad Steve, and Lucy, the family pooch. (Photo Peter Brew-Bevan)

Ariarne’s Tassie childhood

Today, Ariarne, Robyn, Steve, Mia and the family pooch, Lucy, are longtime residents of the sunshine state but Ariarne is proud of the fact she’s made it all the way to the top of her game from the tiny town of Launceston in northern Tasmania.

“I feel like we were very fortunate to grow up there,” she begins, conjuring images of the big bush block where her parents built a family home on the outskirts of town. “Mia and I had such freedom. When we were small, we used to dress up in our fairy dresses and run off to the bush.

“We had ponies out the front. We first started riding horses when I was about four or five. Mia and I shared our first pony – his name was Tiko – and we started to get into riding more and more, and we got more horses and Mum got horses. It’s pretty crazy to think that our front yard was a paddock full of animals.”

They were a sporty family, too. Robyn’s background was in athletics; Steve had played volleyball for Tasmania and had been a club cricketer. Both Ariarne and Mia (who is two-and-a-half years her junior) were keen to sample just about anything from the sporting smorgasbord their parents offered.

In the end though, Mia’s main games were athletics (where she was a regional record holder) and dance, mostly because the training was later in the day. “Ariarne and Dad are the early risers,” she chuckles. “Mum and I, we could sleep for days.”

Ariarne wears a lemon yellow summer dress and sits beside the turquoise water of the swimming pool in her family's backyard.
Ariarne Titmus relaxes at home by the pool. (Photo Peter Brew-Bevan)

Ariarne Titmus’ first medal

Ariarne was not only up at sparrows, she seemed at home, from day one, in the pool.

“I still remember her first swimming lesson,” Steve says, “at a tiny indoor pool in suburban Launceston. Ariarne kept putting her head under the water. The instructor got really annoyed, and kept saying, ‘Ariarne, stop putting your head under the water, we’ll get to that shortly’.

“I remember it as if it were yesterday because it was one of those light-bulb moments. You knew that Arnie loved being in the water, so her early swimming lessons were quite a joy.”

Steve and Robyn built a family home with an indoor pool alongside the kitchen, and a picture window through which they could watch the kids swim while they made dinner.

“Ariarne had this natural breaststroke,” Robyn recalls. “Mia was better with freestyle in those days but Ariarne would glide though the water … It just came naturally.

“Ariarne would glide though the water. It just came naturally.”

Robyn Tutmus

“Then Steve said to the girls, ‘Did you know there’s a little swimming squad down the road? Do you want to suss it out?’ And that’s what they did.”

Ariarne has nothing but happy memories of those early squad days, and they are archetypal Aussie childhood memories, too.

“We used to do club trips to Hobart for competitions,” she says. “My first main competition was called the medley pentathlon and I was in the eight and under. I got third in that. I got this little trophy and that’s probably my first swimming trophy. I’ve got all my medals from when I was seven up in my room. And I remember, on the bus trip home, we’d stop at the Maccas just outside Hobart and everyone would go in and it’d be the highlight of the day.”

There were weekends when the family would scoot back and forth across the state to get to swimming comps and athletics meets and to ferry the girls and their horses to gymkhanas. And everything we did, Robyn says, “we did it as a family”.

Which was why, when it became evident Ariarne needed to leave Tassie if she was going to take her swimming to the next level, it was a family decision and a whole-family move.

Ariarne Titmus wears a white blazer and leans on the white wooden balcony railing of her family home. Sunlight shines through palm trees behind her.
Ariarne Titmus on the back porch of her family home. (Photo Peter Brew-Bevan)

Family is everything

There was never a moment’s thought that Ariarne might go to boarding school. “Knowing how close we all are, we didn’t think we would survive that,” Robyn says emphatically. But there were deeper concerns too.

“When things are going well and you’re concentrating on school and training, it’s all fine,” Robyn says. “But when they get sick or things don’t go to plan, you can’t be there for them.”

And while they’ve never had any immediate concerns about Ariarne, both Robyn and Steve were aware of reports of physical and emotional abuse right across the sporting arena.

“You need to be that supportive parent.”

Robyn Titmus

“As parents,” Robyn says, “you need to do your due diligence … And you need to be that supportive parent and create an environment where, if anything were to happen that they weren’t comfortable with, they’d talk to you. I think that’s really important.”

In 2015, the Titmus clan travelled north on what they were determined would be an epic adventure. It took time, but both parents reignited their careers in Brisbane (Steve in TV news and Robyn in recruitment), the girls started at new schools and Ariarne began training at St Peters Western Swim Club in Indooroopilly, with coach Dean Boxall, setting her heart on the Olympics, where she finally made her mark in 2021.

Paparazzi on Ariarne’s trail

Ariarne Titmus’ life has changed incomparably since that breathtaking swim in Tokyo, and the 23-year-old is taking those changes with a dose of good-natured commonsense.

“In terms of my swimming life,” she says, “nothing’s changed. My routine is exactly the same. But one big change is how well known I am now … I meet people and sometimes they tell me where they were when they saw me race at the Olympics, and that’s really special, so I love that part of it.”

Not always quite so welcome has been the erosion of her privacy. In the immediate aftermath of the Tokyo Olympics, Ariarne was captured by paparazzi out and about with then boyfriend and fellow swimmer Kyle Niesler, and the internet went wild. There have been other instances of unwanted attention, too.

“There were paparazzi outside the house. They could find me wherever I was.”

Ariarne Titmus

“Paparazzi followed me to the beach,” she says. “There were paparazzi outside the house. They could find me wherever I was. It was quite scary when it first started happening, but now I’m used to it.

“People are paying more attention to what happens in my life now … People want to know more about me personally, which I’m fine with. I’m not shy about saying I’m a huge fan of [Canadian singer] Shawn Mendes and I want to know what’s going on in his life. But I can understand now that you do want to keep some things private.”

The golden age of Aussie swimming

Of course, Ariarne is not the only star on the Australian swimming team who is attracting public interest. And she says there are a lot of positives that come along with that as well.

“It’s great to be part of this new golden era of swimming,” she tells The Weekly. “I feel like I’ve been really lucky, and I’m in an era where the team culture is the best it’s ever been.

“At the [Tokyo] Olympics, we were so happy for each other. I remember, on the last day of finals, I got to watch from the stands. Emma [McKeon] won her gold in the 50 free’ and the girls won the medley relay. I was just so happy and one of my friends said, ‘This is what it was like when you won’ … Later, I saw Emma and she had done her massive record haul of medals and we just hugged and cried because we were so proud of each other. We’re all just such great teammates and I’m so lucky to be in a sport where that’s the case, and I don’t think it’s like that everywhere.”

Swimmers Madison Wilson, Kiah Melverton, Ariarne Titmus and Mollie O'Callaghan are standing poolside, dressed in their green and gold uniforms. They hug each other to celebrate setting a world record and winning gold medals.
Teammates Madison Wilson, Kiah Melverton, Ariarne Titmus and Mollie O’Callaghan celebrate setting a new record in the 4x200m freestyle relay at the Commonwealth Games in 2022.  (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

It seems the happiness in the team is rubbing off on the rest of Ariarne’s life too.

“I just feel quite content in my life,” she confesses. “Often my coach has said to me that being content is bad because it means you’re not going to get the best out of yourself in the pool, but at the moment, I’m enjoying life …

“I’ve got some balance in my life and that’s made me really happy. And I’m enjoying training more than ever too. I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve and now I’m swimming to see what more I can do. I’m swimming to see how much better I can get, and that gives me real joy.”

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