This past year saw major aquatics competitions make their triumphant return. After 2020 saw the delay of both the Olympic Games and the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) by one year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, action in and around the pool returned to centre stage in 2021.
New Era of FINA Leadership
The year’s top stories for the aquatics community began before the top athletes descended in Tokyo for the Olympics with FINA embarking on a new era as Captain Husain Al-Musallam of Kuwait was voted in as the FINA President. A FINA Gold Pin recipient in recognition for his contribution to swimming at all levels throughout his life, President Al-Musallam’s sports career started as a swimmer where he competed in the Pan-Arab, Asian and FINA World Championships from 1974 to 1976.
Brent Nowicki was soon tabbed as FINA’s new Executive Director to head up the federation’s work from FINA’s headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland. The former Managing Counsel at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Nowicki grew up as an age group swimmer before receiving his Juris Doctor degree from the State University of New York (USA) and then working for the past 15 years in amateur, professional and Olympic sport.
FINA Extraordinary Congress approves series of key reforms
In October, FINA shared key recommendations for future reforms, which were voted on and approved by its members during the FINA Extraordinary Congress that took place alongside the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Abu Dhabi (UAE).
The recommendations included the establishment of an independent Aquatics Integrity Unit. Members of the Unit will be elected and rules adopted at the FINA General Congress in May 2022 in Fukuoka (JPN). The Unit will be operational from 1 June 2022.
Dressel and McKeon shine at the Tokyo Olympics
In Tokyo, Dressel added five Olympic gold medals to the pair of relay golds he won at the Rio 2016 Games. This included a captivating performance against Australia’s Kyle Chalmers in the 100m Freestyle as the American held off a furious final charge to win by a mere 6-hundredths, 47.02 to 47.08.
The Australian women also arrived in Tokyo with high expectations. They delivered, led by Emma McKeon’s seven medals. Alongside McKeon’s two relay golds, she also triumphed in the 50m Freestyle and 100m Freestyle, where she nearly bested the world record in both events.
Serbia and USA take Olympic water polo gold – again
#waterpolo Women's #USA already maintained their record of winning a medal at every #Olympics since women’s water polo was introduced (Sydney 2000),— FINA (@fina1908) August 5, 2021
but of course they want more👇https://t.co/hSYfE2myqT
While the world might be catching up to the USA women in water polo (as evidenced by Hungary edging out the USA 10-9 in a group game, the American’s first Olympics defeat in women’s water polo since 2008), Team USA landed their third-consecutive Olympic title by defeating the reigning European champions Spain in the final, 14-5.
Coming in as the defending men’s Olympic water polo winners, Serbia dropped two group games to barely squeak into the knockout matches. From there, though, Serbia showed they were the class of the men’s water polo field. They played peerlessly against Italy and Spain to make it to the Olympic final. There, they pulled away in the second half to best Greece, 13-10.
Romashina clinches record-setting sixth and seventh gold medals in Artistic Swimming
Part of the Olympic programme since it was then known as synchronised swimming at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games, the stars of artistic swimming wowed us once more at Tokyo 2020 with their poise and grace while performing elaborate routines in – and under – the water.
Swimmers representing ROC have dominated the sport – with Svetlana Romashina consistently among those shining brightest in the pool. This carried on this past summer at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre where she won her sixth and seventh gold medals, two more than any other artistic swimmer at the Olympic Games.
Romanshina’s Tokyo performance is all the more impressive as she became a mother in November 2017.
"I can't say that they're different, but I can say that the sixth and the seventh medal were the [most difficult] in my life," Romashina said. "I became a mother and it was very difficult to be a mother and athlete at one moment.
"I'm very, very happy about this medal. I understand that it will be my last Olympic Games as an athlete. I understand that maybe it's my last competition. I don't know yet, but maybe."
FINA Aquatics Festival added to 2021 event slate
Looking to add opportunities for competing athletes, FINA brought diving, high diving and open water swimming disciplines alongside the 15th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) in Abu Dhabi. The compact event cluster proved a success, with innovations like diving and high diving into the ocean resonating with the athletes.
“Diving into the ocean has been so fun. It’s so different for us because we are always inside,” remarked Krysta Palmer of the USA Mixed Diving Team. “Coming outside and doing this in the sunshine and being judged by judges that are on a boat, it’s just cool.”
Palmer’s teammate Benjamin Bramley added: “My favourite part is looking over the edge and seeing fish before you go.”