| No. of participating countries: 102
| No. of athletes: 1400
Unprecedented Chinese dominance in women’s swimming, Hungarian triumph in women’s water polo, two gold medals for Aleksandr Popov, Norbert Rózsa, Kieren Perkins and Gary Hall among the men swimmers, Zimbabwean gold in diving – it all happened in Rome, at the 7th FINA World Championships.
It was the first time that more than 100 nations took part in the FINA World Championships: to be exact, a total of 1400 athletes were welcomed in the Italian capital in September 1994 – an increase by 250 athletes compared to the previous edition in Perth.
China finished on the top of the overall medal table for the first time with a great advantage. Chinese athletes gathered in total 16 gold, 10 silver and 2 bronze medals, ahead of the second placed Americans (7-10-8) and the Russians (5-7-5). 21 nations earned at least one medal in Rome, the Hungarian delegation finished on the 5th place of the overall ranking with 3 gold, 3 silver and 4 bronze medals.
12 out of the 16 women’s events were won by the Chinese – causing uproar in the swimming community and later at the Asian games several world champions were caught, however, the Rome results had never been overturned.
Le Jingyi herself won four gold medals alone (50 and 100m freestyle and 4x100m freestlye and medley relays). Winner of the 100m and 200m butterfly event, Liu Limin gained another gold with the medley relay team, Lu Bin collected three golds, while He Cihong – who beat Krisztina Egerszegi in the 200m backstroke – took the 100m gold.
Australian swimmer, Samantha Riley became World Champion over both the 100 and the 200m breaststroke. American Janet Evans (800m freestyle) and a 16-year-old German won gold among the women in Rome. Who was she? Franziska van Almsick, one of the most famous and spectacular swimmers of the 90s – indeed she missed the cut for the final but her compatriot withdrew from the race and Franziska stormed to the wall first on lane 8.
In the men’s field, the results were much more colourful with eight different nations winning gold in Rome. Russian legend Alexander Popov became a World Champion in the 50 and in 100m freestyle events ahead of American Gary Hall (Popov also won two silvers in relay events). One of the greatest swimmers in history won these two events two years before at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, and then he held these titles in Atlanta, Popov retired from the discipline in 2005.
Hungarian Norbert Rózsa (100 and 200m breaststroke), Australian Kieren Perkins (400 and 1500m freestyle) also won two gold medals and two Finnish triumphs were born as well, Antti Kasvio (200m freestyle) and Jani Sievinen took them.
Martin Lopez Zuberro (100m backstroke) pleased the Spanish fans, Vladimir Selkov (200m backstroke) and Denis Pankratov (200m butterfly) collected golds for Russia, Rafal Szukala made history for Poland, Tom Dolan earned a gold for the United States while the Swedish relay (4x200m freestyle) also became World Champion.
Zimbabwean athletes have earned a total of four gold medals in the history of the FINA World Championship. Swimmer Kirsty Coventry holds three of these (two golds from Montreal 2005 and one from 2009 Rome). The fourth one was won in Rome by Evan Stewart, the diver who triumphed the in 1m event overtaking his Chinese and American rivals.
The Chinese won all three women’s events, and captured a gold in the men’s field, too. Russian legend, Dmitry Sautin became a World Champion for the first time by winning the 10m event, and clinched silver in 3m. Over the years to follow Sautin earned four more World golds and had one of the most outstanding careers in sporting history: the Russian diver won his first Olympic medal in 1992 and the last one in Beijing, 16 years later!
Canadian Greg Streppel and Australian Melissa Cunningham won the 25km event in Rome, but Australian open water swimmers had even more success in Italy as the silver of the men’s and bronze of the women’s events went to them as well. Rita Kovács from Hungary won a silver medal.
The United States dominated the synchro events, they landed all three gold medals. Becky Dyoren-Lancer tripled as finished the first position in solo, in duet and in team event, too. Two years later, in 1996 she was the member of the winner team at the Olympic Games in Atlanta. Becky Dyroen-Lancer was inducted to the International Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2004.
In the men’s field home side Italy dominated the water polo tournament. The Settebello won all games – their only tough game was against Hungary which ended with a fight in the pool. In the final they defeated Spain by no less than five goals, a much overwhelming victory than the one they had gained in Barcelona in the thrilling Olympic final. The current head coach of the Italian national team, Alessandro Campagna was member of the 1994 squad, so was Giuseppe Porzio.
Hungary triumphed in the women’s tournament by beating Italy in the semi-final, then the United States in the final. This was the first ever occasion that a temporary pool was part of the show – the venue was created at one of the tennis courts of the Foro Italico complex.