| No. of participating countries: 134
| No. of athletes: 1498
2001 marks the first time Asia hosted the greatest aquatic event, the elite competed between 16-29 July in Fukuoka. This was the only World Championship that Australia topped the overall medal table thanks to its brilliant delegation of swimmers. The WCH saw the debut of three events and the number of athletes was way higher. Great personalities excelled in swimming events, the host, Japan won a gold in synchro, the Spanish national water polo team could defend their world title. IX. FINA World Championships review.
1498 athletes of 134 nations were fighting for top rankings in Fukuoka indicating a significant increase compared to the previous WCH in Perth, 1998 (1371, 121). New events debuted in Japan: champions of 50m butterfly, 50m breaststroke and backstroke were celebrated in addition to that of 1500m freestyle, 800m men’s breaststroke and 10 km open water swimming – and a young American swimmer, claiming gold right-away at the age of 16: Michael Phelps.
A total of 24 nations claimed minimum one medal, Australia topped the medal table with 13 gold, 4 silver and 6 bronze medals. China claimed second with 10 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze ahead of US, gaining 9-9-8. This was the weakest result of all times for US, in the other 15 WCHs they were ranked either 2nd or 1st in the overall medal table.
It was not the most successful WCH for the Hungarian team, either athletes could collect 3 medals only: Ágnes Kovács claimed gold in 200m and bronze in 100m breaststroke, the women’s water polo team won a silver (the same year they won the European Championships in Budapest).
Major contributions to the overall result of Australia were made by Ian Thorpe, aged 19 at the time. He had claimed a gold 3 years earlier in Perth and wrote sports history in Fukuoka this time by winning 6 gold medals in the same tournament. He arrived first in 200, 400 and 800m freestyle and claimed gold as a member of the 4×100, 4×200 freestyle relay and the 4x100medley relay – during his career he earned 11 World Championships titles.
‘Thorpedo’ was not the only Australian to do a great job in Japan, as relay members, Grant Hackett and Matt Welsh won a gold in solo, Hackett in 1500m freestyle and Welsh in 100m backstroke. In fact, Hackett’s accomplishment was remarkable as he collected two silvers (400 and 800m freestyle), too. Geoff Huegill could also be proud of his achievements winning gold in 50m butterfly and 4x100medley relay in addition to a bronze in 100m butterfly.
As for women, Petria Thomas finished first in 100 and 200m butterfly as well as in 4x100medley relay, so she collected 3 gold medals altogether. Gian Rooney claimed a gold in 200m freestyle.
The American delegation was proud of Anthony Ervin winning both 50 and 100m freestyle, in addition to world champions Randall Bal (50m backstroke), Aaron Peirsol (200m backstroke), Brendan Hansen (200m breaststroke) and one of the greatest swimmers ever, Michael Phelps winning the 200m butterfly at the age of 16 – probably there is no need to talk about what happened following this event in his career. Considering women, Haley Cope (50m backstroke), Natalie Coughlin (100m backstroke), Martha Bowen (200m medley) claimed gold.
Other athletes gaining world title in Fukuoka included the Ukrainian Oleg Lisogor (50m breaststroke), Swedish Lars Frölander (100m butterfly), Italian Massimiliano Rossolino (200m medley) and Alessio Boggiatto (400m medley), Dutch Inge de Brujin (50 and 100m freestyle), Ukrainian Yana Klochkova (400m freestyle and 400medley). It is interesting to note that Fukuoka saw a Romanian lady to claim a gold: Diana Mocanu won the 200m backstroke.
Open water swimming events were dominated by Italian swimmers in Fukuoka. Viola Valli arrived first both in 5 and 25 km. Beside her, Luca Baldini could also stand on top of the podium for claiming gold in men’s 5 km (Italians won 2 bronze in 5 and 10km – altogether 5 medals went to Italy).
Yevgeny Bezruchenko claimed silver in 5 km, while in 10km he was unbeatable, therefore he collected 2 medals altogether, just like the Dutch swimmer, Edith van Dijk winning a bronze in 10km and a silver in 25km as well as the German Peggy Büchse (silver in 5km, gold in 10.)
Despite already dominating the discipline in Perth (winning 3 gold medals), this time Russians had to settle with a silver in a duet. Hosts, Miya Tachibana and Miho Takeda excelled the two Anastasia-s (duet by Anastasia Davydova and Anastasia Ermakova). Note – this was the very last time till today that Russia lost a gold medal in any of the duet or team events.
Frenchwoman Virginie Dedieu won a silver this time again (in solo), Canada collected two bronze medals in Japan.
Eight out of the 10 gold medals went to Chinese athletes in diving, the men’s 3m and women’s 1m were the only exceptions, namely the legendary diver, Dmitri Sautin (RUS) and Canadian Blythe Hartley could compensate Chinese dominance to some extent.
Mexico won a medal in diving for the first time, Fernando Platas won in 3 and 10m synchronised diving partnering Joel Rodriguez in the former and Eduardo Rueda in the latter event.
In the history of World Championships it has not been common that a national team could defend their title. First it happened in 1991 when the Yugoslavian team could win a gold again. And last one came in 2001 when the Spanish completed a double in Fukuoka. (Regarding women, Fukuoka saw the Italian team defending their title too. Then after 2009, the US team started dominating.)
The Spanish success was a celebration of outstanding defending again, just like in Perth. The Iberian team won all their matches, beat both the Russians and the great Yugoslavian team 4-2 in the semis and in the final respectively.
Similar to the World Championships in 1998, the Italian women’s team had difficulties in group matches but pulled themselves together and did a great job in the end. They beat the American team in the semi-final and avenged their loss to the Hungarians in June in the European Championship final in the gold medal match.