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Aquatics honoured at the 2010 Laureus World Sports Awards

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Natalie du ToitSouth African open water swimmer Natalie du Toit, who is breaking down the barriers between disabled and able-bodied sport, recently received the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award, in a ceremony held in Abu Dhabi (UAE).

A delighted Natalie said: "It is a great honour to be receiving this prestigious Award. It is the third time that I've been to the Laureus Awards and the second time that I've been nominated. In 2010 we will be holding the soccer World Cup, and to hold South Africa's name high is very special for me. Being a Friend & Ambassador for Laureus makes it very special for me to see what sport can do, how sports people can go into communities and really uplift them. I've seen those community projects, so to Laureus 'well done'."

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Mind over Matter

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The success of Junya Koga, a Japanese backstroke star, owes more to the strength of mind than to hard work. His experiences of karate practice have given him new strength and led him to new heights in swimming.

The 22-year-old sprinter, who won the gold medal in the men’s 100m backstroke at the FINA World Championships Rome 2009, began to attend Karate practice in December last year after his acupuncturist, Hiroshi Shiraishi, introduced him to karate master Kenji Ushiro. “Thank all the people around you and do not forget it,” told him Shiraishi, who is known for taking care of many top athletes, such as former athletics’ super star Carl Lewis at Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and Daichi Suzuki, who won the gold medal in the 100m backstroke at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Ushiro, who learnt the old-style karate of Okinawa, had advised him, “Be prepared in your mind”.

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North America is coming back

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The last FINA Synchronised Swimming World Trophy, held in November 2009 in Montreal (CAN), gave fans a rare glimpse of something that had not occurred since 1996: a country other than Russia at the top of the podium. Three gold medals (highlight team, thematic duet and thematic team) secured Canada’s victory at the World Trophy, opening a door that had been closed for more than a decade.

For 25 years, the United States and Canada made a “gold-medal relay” of the main competitions around the globe, but the Russians have exerted their domination since 1997. With Canada’s late success, many synchronised swimming fans and specialists now ask the question: “Can the ‘founders’ regain their former glory?"

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Mitcham, the man with the Midas touch

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Matthew Mitcham is a young man who knows his place in the world of diving and more importantly knows his place in the world. The 2008 Olympic diving gold medallist wants to make a difference, especially in a sports mad country dominated by four football codes and what seems like a continuous game of cricket.

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One star, one discipline: Trent Grimsey

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Australia and open water swimming are deeply connected. The reasons are many: the first, and most obvious, is the fact that the enormous country is surrounded by water; the second is the passion of Australians for swimming, a discipline in which they share world supremacy with the United States; the third is a reason that will remain forever a part of FINA’s history: the first open water swimming event contested at a FINA World Championships was held in the 1991 edition of the competition in… Perth, along the Swan River in Western Australia.

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How synchro has changed

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Over the last decade, a huge metamorphosis has taken place within synchronised swimming. This has occurred for three main reasons: the sport has become increasingly popular worldwide – about 100 nations have regular programmes in this discipline; the performances have dramatically changed, as new figures and movements, and a new event - the combination - have made synchro more spectacular; and, last but not least, the top-three hierarchy at the three major events – Olympic Games, World Championships and World Cups – has significantly evolved. We could say that all these three items are deeply connected – more participation leads to more interest, more interest leads to more stars - but let us take a look into the last topic and recall the evolution since 1973; the date on which the first edition of the FINA World Championships was launched - the first major competition for synchronised swimmers worldwide.

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Brenda Villa (USA) - The taste for gold

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Her resume happens to break the traditional one page rule, but that is what happens when you have played in three Olympic Games, and concluding this past August in Rome, Italy, six FINA World Championships. She is Brenda Villa of USA Water Polo and these latest World Championships were just another for Villa where she ended up wearing the Gold.

Anyone that has followed women’s water polo over the last decade knows Brenda Villa all too well. The Stanford grad from the largely Hispanic community of Commerce, California grew up playing with the boys, and hit the National Team scene exactly at the right time. Coming on board in the late 90s, Villa was able to step into a new world for the sport that saw inclusion in the Olympic Games and an increased presence in women’s university action.

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A 113 year long success story

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Eva Novak in the 1950s

The history of Hungarian swimming has been a story of excellence since the beginning of the modern sporting era. The winner of the first Olympic gold medal, in 1896, at Athens, was in fact a Hungarian - Alfred Hajos, in the 100 metres freestyle. He won also a second gold medal over the distance of 1200 metres, and went home with two of the three gold medals at stake. Later, Hajos became an architect and designed Budapest's finest competitive swimming pools, in which Hungary trained its next great champions.



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Tom Daley (GBR) - Prince of the Platform

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At the age of 15, Thomas “Tom” Daley (GBR) is the reigning World and European champion in the 10m platform and his potential appears to be limitless. Senior national champion by the age of 13, the “buzz” behind Daley’s success has thus far been related to his youth – a warranted storyline considering his victory in Rome made him the second-youngest world diving champion ever, and that he was the second-youngest British Olympian ever when he competed in Beijing at age 14 (and the youngest on the 2008 British team), and that he is the youngest ever continental champion (etc., etc.). But Daley is no longer a boy. He is growing rapidly and under close scrutiny of nutritionists, psychologists, coaches and his parents to ensure his training is adjusted to suit his body development in a way that can provide maximum competitive benefits. His success-in-youth is no longer the focus; his sheer talent, mental fortitude, and whether he will continue to win as an adult is now the main subject.

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Swimming all the rage, thanks to suit flap

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Source: USA Today, Updated by Mike Lopresti, Gannett

Somewhere out there, boxing and hockey and horse racing and every other sport craving more notice must be turning aquamarine with envy. There's a new master when it comes to attracting attention to itself.

We give you … swimming?

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