Nervous Horton sets up showdown with Sun

Reuters
Olympic champion Mack Horton sets up a showdown with China's Sun Yang after the Australian squeezes through the heats into the 400m freestyle final at the world championships.
Reuters
Reuters

China's Sun Yang prepares for the start of the men's 400-meter freestyle heat at the 2017 FINA world championships in Budapest, Hungary, on July 23, 2017.

Australia's Olympic champion Mack Horton was forced into an early tussle to qualify for the men's 400 meters freestyle final alongside Chinese rival Sun Yang on the opening morning of swimming's world championships on Sunday.

Horton finished third in his heat to qualify fifth fastest as Austria's Felix Auboeck clocked a personal-best 3 minutes 44.19 seconds to secure a center lane berth with Sun at the Duna Arena in Budapest.

The 25-year-old Chinese was sixth at the 300m mark in his heat but stormed back to finish 0.36 seconds behind Auboeck's qualification mark. Sun's time was more than 2 seconds behind the year's world-leading time which he recorded at the Chinese national championships.

"I felt OK in the morning and I took the heats as a warm-up. I will try my best in the final but I did not set any goal for the evening," said Sun.

Horton dethroned Sun as Olympic champion over 400m at last year's Rio Games, branding the Chinese superstar a "drugs cheat" for serving a three-month doping ban in 2014 after taking a stimulant.

"I usually go for top two so when I was third I was a little bit worried," Horton told reporters. "You always feel better after your first swim and to blow away the cobwebs."

Hungary's Katinka Hosszu started her gruelling week in blazing fashion in the women's 200 individual medley heats.

Hosszu clearly revelled in racing in front of her home crowd and was smiling and waving to both sides of the impressive indoor arena after finishing in 2:07.49.

The Olympic champion finished more than 2 seconds ahead of her nearest rival, Canada's Sydney Pickrem, with Olympic silver medalist Siobhan-Marie O'Connor of Britain, who nearly edged Hosszu out of gold in a fingertip finish in Rio, qualifying for the semifinals in fourth.

In her title defense, Katie Ledecky was also in prime form as the American recorded a time of 3:59.06, a championship record, in the women's 400 freestyle heats.

On a morning where a raft of Olympic champions set out their stalls for world title glory, Adam Peaty of Britain coasted into the semifinals of the men's 100 breaststroke as the fastest qualifier with a time of 58.21 seconds — the seventh fastest of his career.

Earlier, Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden posted the fastest time in qualifying for the semifinals of the women's 100 butterfly.

Olympic champion Sjostrom, who won European gold seven years ago in Budapest and is seeking a third world title in the event, recorded a time of 55.96 seconds.

The United States stayed on course for a golden double in the 4x100 freestyle relays.

The US quartet topped qualification in the women’s heats, while the men posted the third quickest time behind Brazil and Australia ahead of Sunday night's finals.

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