| No. of participating countries: 178
| No. of athletes: 2195
With the global financial crisis hitting hard the city of Dubai, the originally named host had to pull out – and ten years after a memorable edition, Barcelona rushed to help the FINA Family to organise the World Championships once again. It became the third city after Shanghai and Rome to stage the top showcase for the second time while Spain was the first country to organise three editions of the Worlds.
The 15th FINA World Championships took place in the Catalonian capital between 19 July and 4 August. All synchronised swimming events saw Russian victory similarly to Shanghai two years before. High diving debuted at the Championships this time and all in all the US topped the medal charts.
Although the number of countries attending the World Championships was 177 (178 was in 2011), the number of athletes was somewhat higher (2195) than before. Events were staged in four venues. Swimmers and synchronised swimmers competed in Palau Sant Jordi established for the 1992 Olympics, high divers and open water swimmers went to Port Vell, divers were hosted by the iconic Montjuic pool and water polo teams battled in Bernat Picornell Complex.
The medal table was again topped by the US clinching 15 gold, 10 silver and 9 bronze. Chinese finished second, in contrast with their result 2 years earlier (when they claimed more bronze and silver) they claimed fewer medals than their American rivals this time, totalling 14 gold, 8 silver and 4 bronze in the end. Russia finished third again with 9 gold, 6 silver and 4 bronze.
Team Hungary collected 4 gold, 1 silver and 2 bronze finishing 5 in the medal table. Katinka Hosszú topped the podium twice, in 200 and 400m medley. Dániel Gyurta won the 200m breast for the third time and the men’s water polo team also won a third world title in history. László Cseh claimed silver in 100m butterfly, while two bronze medals went to Katinka Hosszú (200m butterfly) and the women’s water polo team.
This time men’s swimming events were dominated by Chinese Sun Yang who was unbeatable in the three longest freestyle events (400, 800 and 1500m). He could defend his throne in 800m and 1500m alike, while American swimmer Ryan Lochte did so in 200m medley and 200m backstroke. He did not break the world record this time, still he could clinch gold in medley for the third consecutive occasion. In addition, he claimed a gold and a silver in relay making him the most successful contender in this field since Chinese rival clinched „only” one bronze in relay beside his 3 individual gold medals.
Dániel Gyurta swept in 200m breaststroke for the third time in a row and so did Brazilian swimmer César Cielo in 50m freestyle, moreover, he retained his title in 50m butterfly. South African Chad le Clos, upsetting Michael Phelps in his pet 200m fly event at the London Olympics, proved his quality by completing the 100-200m fly double. Although individual events were dominated by the reigning champions as expected, two relay events saw new winners. The French teams topped the podium in both, beating Australia in the 4x100m freestyle relay and the Americans in the 4x100m medley relay.
The event saw six world records, all set by ladies at this World Championships, four of them coming in the three breaststroke events. The first is attached to Lithuanian Rüta Meilutyté, touching in 1:04.35 in the 100m breaststroke semi-final, followed by Danish Rikke Møller Pedersen finishing in 2:19.11 in 200m breaststroke semi-final. In the 50m breaststroke prelims Julia Efimova broke the world record by clocking 29.78 and the same day in the semi-final of the same event Rüta Meilutyté excelled again touching in 29.48. In the end the final was won by the Russian, ahead of Lithuanian rival with a somewhat slower time than previously (29.52).
The other two world records were bettered by emerging US superstar Katie Ledecky, she brought down the 1500m WR first (15:36.53), then bettered the mark in the 800m too (8:13.86). American women claimed 6 individual titles, 3 apiece by Ledecky and Missy Franklin and relays were dominated by them, also. Julia Efimova (50 and 200m breaststroke) and Katinka Hosszú (200 and 400m medley) had two titles apiece.
German swimmer Thomas Lurz crowned his outstanding career in Barcelona. He won his first World Championships gold in 2004 in the 10km, since then he had claimed at least one gold at each World Championships. In 5km he was on the podium altogether 7 times in a row (including stand-alone open water Worlds). In the Catalonian capital he came first in the 25km and in the team event, he claimed silver in 10km and bronze in 5km – no other athlete ever could match that feat of clinching medals in four events at the same edition of the World Championships. The men’s 10km crown was retained by Greece’s Spyridon Gianniotis touched the panel 3 seconds faster than Lurz.
In diving, following their perfect performance in Shanghai Chinese divers’ golden streak was halted right on the opening day as the platform synchro title was landed by German duet Sasha Klein and Patrick Hausding, while London Olympic gold medallist duet Cao Yuan, Zhang Yanquan finished third only, even the Russians Minibaev and Chesakov overtook them. Later the Chinese bounced back, won all three individual events by Li Shixin (1 m), He Chong (3 m) and Qiu Bo (10m), with each retaining his respective title from 2011. Among the ladies, He Zi managed to achieve a double, she became champion in 1 and 3m as well.
The programme of World Championships featured high diving for the first time. Men jumped from 27m while women performed their routines from 20m. The first historic gold went to Columbian Orlando Duque, whereas American diver Cesilie Carlton was the first woman to clinch gold in the new discipline.
Nothing new happened in synchro, the Russians claimed 7 out of 7 gold medals just as two years earlier in Shanghai, however, this time they could do so without Nathalia Ischchenko, queen of synchro. The solo and duet crowns were claimed by Svetlana Romashina – back in 2005 she was member in the world champion team while Barcelona marked the peak of her career as she bagged 4 more golds after the two Olympic titles at the London Olympics. As for individual events, silver medals went to China, while bronze medals were claimed by Spain. In the team events, the hosting nation finished second in 3 events while the third place went to the Ukraine.
Apparently, Barcelona was a lucky place for Hungary’s male national water polo team. Exactly 10 years after claiming their second World Champs gold, they reached the top of podium in Barcelona again. Not many expected anything similar as the London Games saw the swansong of their golden generation, the three-time Olympic winning legends all bid farewell to the national team, together with their legendary head coach Dénes Kemény. After the departure such decorated players, the water polo community though Hungary was done for a while – instead another legend, Tibor Benedek took over the coaching job from Kemeny and led his refreshed team to a stunning world-title run. Though the kick off was not so smooth, the team qualified for the knockout stage in the second place in group C after being beaten by the Serbs badly – however, in the second week the Magyars came up with brilliant performances, against the Greeks in the quarters, Croatia in the semis and Montenegro in the final. Denes Varga showed his unique skills and was named MVP of the tournament, while Viktor Nagy was named the best goalie – he saved two penalties in the semis, just to pick a remarkable moment from the many and leftie Norbert Madaras became the first player ever to win world titles 10 years apart.
Concerning women, Hungary did a great job again, the team of András Merész finished third. In contrast with the men’s team ladies did not lose a match till the semi-finals, where they led by four goals against Spain before the hosts produced a miraculous comeback. In the quarters, Spain managed to beat Olympic champion US team – indeed that was the very last occasion till date (!!!) that the mighty Americans lost a knock-out game at any major meet (Olympics, World, World League Super Finals). Spain beat Australia for a historical first world title while Hungary downed Russia for the bronze.