The European Aquatics Championships were not only the first really big aquatic event after the painfully long months of the pandemic but also served as a test of the ‘bubble concept’ before the Olympic Games (participants’ moves were restricted to the hotels and venues, only tested people could enter the competition sites, spectators were not allowed).
The meet turned out to be an immense success by all means: the greatest stars, hungry for competing, offered their very best, while the medical team managed to ensure a Covid-free environment for two weeks, with almost 4,000 participants ‘inside’.
European aquatic athletes were hungry to compete – as a demonstration, the first big championships held during the pandemic brought a participation record: never ever entered 51 nations to the Europeans before (out of 52 LEN Member Federations).
DIVING & ARTISTIC SWIMMING
The diving, artistic swimming and open water swimming action kicked off the event in the first week and Russia dominated the competitions held in the Arena. Again, they won all six events they entered in artistic swimming, the brilliant duet of the Svetlanas, Romashina and Kolesnichenko amazed everyone once more. The remaining four titles went to the Ukrainians but besides the usual silverware collectors, Austria, Greece, Israel and Hungary could also earn medals.
The Russians also offered some outstanding performances in the diving pool but the Germans were up to the task too. Living legend Patrick Hausding extended his unparalleled medal-winning streak started in 2008 by adding four more, including two titles – his golden count stands at 17 now, an incredible record. However, it was Russia’s Aleksandar Bondar who stole the show as the men’s platform final proved to be the crowning event of the first week as usual.
It was a superb duel with world champion Tom Daley who received no less than 10 perfect 10.0 marks from the judges as the Brit came up with three fantastic dives, including a highest-ever scoring single attempt for 109.15 points. It wasn’t enough, though, as he also had erroneous jumps while Bondar was flying high, out of the 54 marks he got for his six dives, 52 were 8.5 or higher. Just as a matter of interest, before this last event, the women’s 3m synchro was decided by the tiniest margin ever recorded in the history of the Europeans, when Lena Hentschel and Tina Punzel from Germany won by 0.09 points ahead of Italy’s Elena Bertocchi and Chiara Pellacani.
A new open water venue was inaugurated at these championships – instead of the usual Lake Balaton, the competition was held near Budapest in the Lupa Lake, famous for its crystal clear water as it comes from the same source which feeds half of Budapest with drinking water.
And former king of the pool, 1500m free Olympic champion Gregorio Paltrinieri was (crystal) clearly the best in the lake this time. After years of trying, the Italian managed to gain enough experience ‘in the wild’ to battle his way to the top. He doubled down the 5km and 10km titles and he made the difference in the team event to complete a golden treble. Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands was a cut above the rest among the women once more, after her majestic haul in Glasgow 2018 (3 gold, 1 silver) she entered two individual events now and came first both in the 5km and 10km.
Katinka Hosszu’s victory in the women’s 400m IM kicked of the swimming meet in the second week and some noted that a full house of 5,000 people would have lifted the roof the Arena. The hosts still tried to create some atmosphere by playing cheers and applauses through the loudspeakers (as usual in football matches) and, as a novelty, also surprised the champions with pre-recorded videos showing their family members who greeted their beloved one from home and this was screened on the giant video-wall after the respective events.
The week was dominated by the same three nations, which had ruled the field in the previous edition in 2018. In Glasgow, Russia topped the medal chart and claimed the Team Trophy, now they had to settle for the second place behind Great Britain in the medal standings while Italy clinched the Team Trophy and also took the most medals in total (27).
Team GB was really a team: they set a new record for gold medals (11) in the new millennium thanks to their outstanding relay swims. They won 7 out of 9, were runner-up to the Russians in the other two (men’s free relays), a true demonstration of team depth and quality. Adam Peaty contributed a great deal in the medley relays and he did the 50m-100m breaststroke double at the fourth consecutive edition since 2014, also completed a four-gold haul so he passed Hungarian legend Laszlo Cseh in the all-time ranks with 16 titles (Russian great Alexander Popov is still the first with 21 titles). By the way, the 35 year-old Magyar passed a historical milestone as Cseh took part in his 10th long-course Europeans (finished 4th in the 200m IM) – his first appearance dates back to 2002, when one-third of the current field were not even born...
Besides Peaty, six other swimmers could claim two titles: Kliment Kolesnikov (RUS) 100m free-50m back, Martin Malyutin (RUS) 200-400m free, Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR) 800-1500m free, Kristof Milak (HUN) 100m-200m fly and Ranomi Kromowidjojo (NED) 50m free-50m fly. Only one, Italy’s Simona Quadarella had three individual golds – she could repeat her 400-800-1500m free treble from 2018, an outstanding feat.
NEW WORLD RECORDS
Three world records fell: Kolesnikov lowered his own global mark in the 50m back twice (23.93, 23.80) – first man ever under 24sec – and Italy’s Benedetta Pilato beat the record in the 50m breast (29.30). The British mixed medley relay improved the European record, and their backstroker Kathleen Dawson also set a new ER in the 100m back over the first leg of the women’s medley relay on the closing day.
There were a handful of historical first-evers: Robert-Andrei Glinta became the first male European champion in Romania (100m back), while Anastasia Gorbenko delivered a historical first female gold for Israel in the 200m IM and Anna Ntountounaki did the same for Greece in the 100m fly.
Hugo Gonzalez won gold among the men for Spain for the first time since 2010, Ari-Pekka Liukkonen landed the first title for Finland since 2002 and Barbara Seemanova, stunning world title-holder Federica Pellegrini (ITA) in the 200m free, took the first Czech victory since 2012.
We saw success stories in the pool but also around it: the 350-strong medical staff, which was responsible to maintain a Covid-free environment for two weeks, did an outstanding job so only 4 tests brought positive results, out of 18.000 – the rate (0.00022%) would be gladly accepted at any international sport events for sure.
“We were afraid beforehand, I have to admit that” LOC President Sandor Wladar, himself former Olympic champion swimmer, said at the closing press conference.
We welcomed representatives from 51 countries, all with different infection rates, different vaccination programmes... But we also built on the discipline of the participants. This is aquatics, here you can reach the international level only if you have the utmost discipline and dedication. In a situation like this, everyone understood why we had to apply strict protocols. I know some were perhaps too strict, like requiring mask-wearing right after the races when the swimmers usually grasp for air. Or on the podium, where pictures for eternity were shot on the medallists – still, we couldn’t risk any compromise, and this brought its result at the end. And I think it served as a fine test for all athletes for the Olympics.”
Though everyone hopes that the next Europeans in Rome 2022 will be an ‘old-school’ edition, held under the sun in the magnificent Foro Italico but not in a bubble.
Results are available HERE