Stop talking about Zagitova, leave Ovechkin alone. Let’s remember swimming!

Yevgeny Rylov wasn’t allowed to become the hero of the World Championship in Budapest

One of the unluckiest FINA World Championship is taking place for the host in Budapest. Neither Hungary nor China are noticeable in the competitions our athletes have to miss. Realnoe Vremya is staying tuned for what is going on while Russia is focusing on some shows like those with figure skater Zagitova in a boxing match or hockey player Ovechkin in a football match with amateurs.

Everyting mixed up in the FINA house

The World Championship in Budapest is a total and absolute break of the mould that has established in aquatic sports in the last 20 years. To start with, world championships used to be held strictly during odd years since 2001 and had two fundamental goals. The post-Olympic competition allowed leaders to get relaxes and the youth to show off and be able to announce their readiness to compete with swimming (diving) leaders in their country. The pre-Olympic one was the final rehearsal before the Olympic Games. The foundation of cyclic sports rests on a similar year-proved training such as two, four and six-stroke freestyle swimming technique.

But Budapest 2022 is breaking all the existing stereotypes. Just a year has passed since the latest Olympics, two years are left to the next year, there has never been such a period in history. Moreover, restless FINA is ready to fold two (!) world championships before the Olympics, in 2023 and January 2024. The competition was last held approximately at the same time in Melbourne in 2008, because it was summer in Australia, and Tatarstan then was happy about the first big swimming medal, thanks to Yana Martynova, her coach Gulnara Aminova and then Sport Minister Marat Bariyev, by the way. The host of the world championships had never hosted so quickly after the previous ones. Just five years passed since the 2017 World Championships in Budapest, for instance, Barcelona and our Kazan, we hope that the championships will be held with a 10-year difference.

Thirdly, the World Championship has never been held with such sanitary restrictions. Earlier, a big terrorist threat related to the events on 11 September 2001 in the USA loomed for the world sport, but the security measures were tightened by the Olympics in Athens in 2004. The measures were tightened but the problem came from where it was not expected to. The men’s water polo team of Canada in the group with Spain and Italy could count only on a success in a match with SAR, but in then according to medical indications wasn’t allowed to play any of these matches.

Georgia that replaced Russia defeated Brazil in the group, looked decently with Montenegro, which is trained by former Sintez player Vladimir Goykovich 9-10, and with the host of the swimming pool Hungary reaching the second round. Clearly, the team of Georgia has five foreigners at once from Italy, Serbia, Croatia, but local players also have class, for instance, ex-Dynamo player Khvicha Jakhaia was on the team.

Revaz Chomakhidze: “Everything is not bad for team Georgia”

“The tournament is very interesting, many teams have had big changes in the teams, after the Olympics,” Sintez coach Revaz Chomakhidze commented on the start of the water polo competition exclusively for Realnoe Vremya. Also, the former head coach of the Georgian team noted: “I think the performance in general will be lower than we used to see because of these big changes. Georgia won Brazil and is in the top 12, and it is a serious success. As for the close defeat by Montenegro, Georgia played not bad, though the rival had a seriously updated team.”

Sadly, Kazakhstan with its new coach Ukumanov and three under-20 water polo players didn’t manage to be in the top. Neither did Germany (ex-Sintez water polo player Ivan Nagayev didn’t make it to the final squad for some reason) and Brazil that can be happy about its former player Vrljić who continues fighting at the World Championship playing for Croatia together former Russian national Konstantin Kharkov moved forward. So our fans have people to root for in this tournament. By the way, Belarusians can also support theirs because Konstantin Averka debuted in the squad of Montenergo. One can root for Serbia who is coached by ex-Sintez player Dejan Savić and Hungary, simply because we feel pity for the host.

Meilutytė’s comeback

The quite scarce information about the World Championship in our mass media seems wrong to us. In the end, European football or NHL don’t have our teams either except for some players, but for some reason nobody thinks about ignoring them, and bookmakers don’t let this. Here, Kazakhstan, competing in Russia’s open championship almost with its whole team, players and coaches who have played here including for our national team, Russian synchronised swimmers, the Bayandinas sisters competing for France. However, Anastasia and Daria were disqualified to using banned furosemid (a diuretic) that was detected in the samples of 2014. Now the sisters cannot compete until 18 March 2023, we will hope they will come back together with Russian synchronised swimmers.

Without our athletes, synchronised (artistic) swimming doesn’t cause any interest. The loss of consciousness of Anita Alvarez from the USA who started to down and her coach pull her out of the water is the only plot that drew the attention. It might seem the absence of favourites from Russia will give Mr Synchronised Swimming Bill May from the USA an extra chance, but seemingly the 43-year-old American retired from sport by this time and didn’t want to return. Let’s start with successes, Yulia Yefimova’s long-term opponent Rūta Meilutytė became a breaststroke queen at the 2022 World Championship.

The hero of the Olympics in London 10 years ago had serious problems and took a back seat when Yefimova was on the stage, American-born Lilly King and now South American Tatiana Schoonmaker. Moreover, Danas Rapšys became th swimming leader in Lithuania. But in Budapest, Danas Rapšys had a secondary role (only 8th in the 200 m freestyle), Lilly King was limited to a gold in the 200 metres, while Meilutytė became a champion in the 50 m and third in the 100 m. Yes, now she has the speed but has obvious problems with endurance. But she can be in the limelight until Paris 2024 because the Olympic programme doesn’t have 50 m breaststroke.

Milák and emptiness

It is obvious that the World Championship in Budapest is Italy’s “place of power” where the country has performed amazingly and stably (the win of the men’s relay is an absolute sensation) and France’s comeback. The country hasn’t been in elite swimming for some 10 years, they showed off in Kazan in 2015, but then rode off into the sunset. Now the team has a clear leader — Léon Marchand. He won all medley races leaving Daya Seto from Japan and American Chase Kalisz and Brit Tom Dean behind. The English, by the way, can consider the WC at least unlucky. Adam Peaty is injured, James Guy won a medal only in the relays like Dean. And it was just two bronzes in the 4x200 m and in the medley. At the moment Germany has modestly reminded the world that it was once a swimming superpower, and now it has not only Florian Wellbrock in long freestyle heats. Besides Marchand, David Popovici from Romania became quite an unexpected hero of the 2022 WC. He was already announced as the future star of global swimming at the European Short Course Championships in Kazan, then the Romanian was not really ready and didn’t justify the advances. In Budapest, he became simply a king of freestyle winning the 100 and 200 metres. Clearly, there is American Caeleb Dressel in the 100 m who got sick during the WC managing to win the 50 m butterfly and a 4x100 relay. But these are excuses, while the Romanian’s two golds will go down into history. By the way, he has already proved the already habitual sensations when somebody from a non-swimming country certainly has won in the last years: Suriname (Anthony Nesty), Singapore (Joseph Schooling), Tunisia (Ahmed Hafnaoui).

By the way, Hafnaoui who easily won the 400 m a year ago in Tokyo wasn’t among the competitors now. Australian Mack Horton who didn’t want to share the podium with Sun Yang at the 2019 WC didn’t reach the final eight. His compatriot Mitch Larkin, Japanese Yui Ohasi, Canadian Penni Oleksiak (only in relay), England, the Netherlands and Japan seem to be in decline. While China and Hungary haven’t performed so catastrophically for themselves. The Asians won the team competition at the 2015 and 2019 WC and now they have just five medals. Moreover, Chang Yufei got the whole bronze set in butterfly. The Hungarians at the 2017 WC at home won nine medals, including the sensational bronze in the 4x100 m freestyle (leaving Nikita Korolyov from Kazan without a bronze), but now 26-time world champ Katinka Hosszúas well as Kenderesi, Kapaś didn’t reach the podium. Only Kristóf Milák in butterfly swam in a way that his rivals didn’t see even his heels. In the 200 m, he was several body lenghts ahead of the runner-up above-mentioned Marchand. Now it seems incredible but once Kazan-born Yegor Kuimov won him as a junior. Moreover, it seems incredible that somebody has ever won Milák.

Jaudat Abdullin

The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.