| No. of participating countries: 157
| No. of athletes: 2015
After Madrid 1986, Spain hosted the FINA World Championships for the second time in 2003. This edition was highlighted by the victory of Popov, Stockbauer, Phelps, Thorpe, De Brujin, Klotchkova and the world title claimed by the Hungarian national water polo team after 30 years among others.
The 10th FINA World Championships were held between 12 and 27 July, 2003 in Barcelona. 2015 athletes of 134 countries competed in 62 disciplines. The number of participants breached the barrier of 2000 for the first time. The free routine combination in synchronised swimming made its debut this time, the number of women’s water polo teams increased from 8 to 16. The United States topped the medal table (12 gold, 13 silver and 6 bronze), Russia came second (10-5-6) and Australia finished third (8-12-6).
The Hungarian delegation claimed 1 gold, 4 silver and 1 bronze. The men’s water polo team won, László Cseh gained his first World Championships medal (a silver in 400m medley) beaten by Michael Phelps, whereas Mihály Flaskay claimed a bronze medal in 50m breaststroke. As for women, Éva Risztov took the biscuit: she claimed silver in 400m freestyle, 200m butterfly and 400m medley.
As for women’s swimming the German delegation proved to be the most successful one with 4 victories, Hannah Stockbauer won three individual freestyle events (400, 800 and 1500m), she swam World Championships record times in the latter two, while Antje Buschschulte excelled in 100m backstroke. With her three gold medals, the swimming lady from Nuremberg earned not only the best female swimmer of the World Champs title but in 2003 she won the title of best athlete of the year by Swimming World Magazine and in her home country, Germany she was awarded as the best female athlete. Hannah did a great job 2 years earlier in Fukuoka, she clinched gold in 800 and 1500m and bronze in 400m, and to make her pedigree complete she won a silver as well, in 4X200 freestyle relay. The peak of her career, however, came in Barcelona for sure, where she earned 3 World titles in individual events. A year later she claimed a bronze only in 4X200m freestyle relay at the Athens Olympics. In 2005 she retired from the sport and continued as a coach in Duisburg.
Although Yana Klochkova from the Ukraine won one less gold in Barcelona than Stockbauer did, during her entire career she hit the wall first in many as 40 races at Olympics, World and European Championships so she was also one of the protagonists of the championships in Barcelona. Practically no one could beat her in her strongest event, the 400m medley at major tournaments between 1999 and 2004 and the same would be true about the 200m event if she had won the 200m event and not the 400m freestyle at the World Championships in Fukuoka.
The victories of the Chinese Luo Xue-juan in 50 and 100m breaststroke were as clean as they could be, just like two years earlier, in Fukuoka. Prior to the World Championships, the Chinese breaststroker bettered the 1:06.52 world record of the South African swimmer, Penelope Heyns from 1999. The world record was broken in Barcelona, but as a matter of fact it was not her but Australian Leisel Jones and not in the final but in the prelims. However, the final was a different story – worthy of a world champion, Luo started the final extremely fast in the first 50m, with 30.87 she was virtually inimitable, whereas Jones finished only third with 1:07.47.
The third lady to clinch 2 medals was the Dutch swimmer, Inge de Brujin claiming gold both in 50m butterfly and 50m freestyle. One of the most remarkable events for women was that of the 50m backstroke where the local favourite, Nina Zhivanevskaya won.
Regarding freestyle events for men, we might as well say that Aleksandr Popov entered the pool to fight against the Australians – and he won, amazingly, 11 years after achieving the same double here in Barcelona at the 1992 Olympics. The other 4 freestyle gold medals were claimed by Australian swimmers Ian Thorpe (200 and 400m) and Grant Hackett (800m and 1500m). After a rather poor performance at the Australian Championships, Thorpe excelled in Barcelona, in addition to his two individual gold medals he claimed another one in 4×200 freestyle relay, a bronze in 100m and a silver in 200m medley.
Two years earlier he made sports history by becoming the first athlete to collect 6 gold medals at the same World Championships. In Barcelona he set a new record by becoming the first swimmer to gain world title three consecutive times in the same event (400m free). The 200m was rather challenging for him as the Dutch swimmer, Pieter van den Hoogenband was ahead of him and under world record pace at the halfway mark. However, in the second leg the Australian world champion took back the lead and won with the time of 1:45.14.
The American backstroker, Aaron Peirsol achieved a double too and triumphed in the 100 and 200m, in addition, he claimed gold in 4x100m medley relay. The world also learned a new name, the emerging king of the men’s breaststroke: Japan’s Kosuke Kitajima made his first 100-200m double at this championships, to be followed by a lot more at the following editions and at two Olympics.
The most successful male swimmer of individual events at the World Championships was Michael Phelps clinching three gold medals. He excelled in the 200m butterfly, and in the 200m and 400m IM, and claimed silver in 100m butterfly. He won gold in 4x100medley relay, though he did not swim in the final, and added a silver in the 4x200m free relay. It goes without saying that he broke world records one after the other. The first one in the 200m butterfly prelims, breaking his previous record of 1:54.58 with 1:53.93 becoming the first swimmer to go under 1:54. The next day he could win the final without extra effort but of course, it was far behind his time of the previous day. A day later in the prelims again he broke his previous record in the 200m medley and set a new one at 1:57.52, but it did not take him long to break it again: the final, next day, saw his triumph with a new record again at 1:56.04. Then came the 100m butterfly event of unexpected excitement. As usual, Phelps broke the record in the prelims with his time of 51.47. Similar to the previous case, the newly set record was not held for long. The scenario this time saw a surprising twist and it was not Phelps but fellow swimmer, Ian Crocker who bettered it and won the event. By his incredible time of 50.98 he made sports history by becoming the first swimmer to go under 51 seconds. As a cooling down, Phelps won the 400m medley final by the record time of 4:09.09.
All three open water swimming events were won by Russian swimmers. As for women, the Italian Viola Valli doubled by excelling in 5 and 10 km alike. Dutchwoman Edith Van claimed gold in 25 km.
Compared to previous scenarios, this time diving saw some changes. Although Chinese divers made extraordinary performances again, their dominance was not so obvious anymore. Considering men for instance, it was only Xiang Xu to become world champion in 1 m, Russian Aleksander Dobroskok doubled by triumphing 3m as well as 3m synchro with Dmitrij Sautin. Gold in 10m was claimed by the Canadian diver, Alexandre Despatie, 10m synchro was won by an Australian duet. Regarding women Asian divers maintained their hegemony, 4 out of 5 events saw Chinese winners. It was only the 1 m event where an Australian lady, Irina Lashko could top the podium.
The French synchro swimmer, Virginie Dedieu clinched a gold, while the Japanese duet of Miya Tacibana and Miho Takeda excelled in the duet event. The team routine was won by Russia while the combo saw the victory of Japan.
The men’s water polo final was contested by Hungary and Italy. Scores remained 8-8 even at the end of full time and the extra time (3-1) saw the brilliant performance of Dénes Kemény’s team beating Italy 11-9. The Hungarian team became world champion exactly 30 years after the first World Championships victory of 1973 in Beograd. After a long wait, the United States came out on top in the women’s tournament, beating Italy in the final.