2018 National Development Award: Italy
At the 2018 European Championships in Glasgow, Scotland, Italy placed 3rd in the overall medal table, where they took home 22 medals, including 6 gold, 5 silver, and 11 bronze medals. Only host nations Great Britain (24) and swimming superpower Russian (26) won more medals. For a country with some moderate swimming history, this finish for the Italians marked the most medals that they’ve ever won at the European Championships.
Individual European Champions from Italy include 19-year-old Simona Quadarella, who won gold in the 400, 800, and 1500 meter freestyles, Margherita Panziera, champion and Championship Record holder in the 200 backstroke, where she posted a 2:06.18–only .04 slower than Pan Pacs Champion Kathleen Baker–Alessandro Miressi, champion in the men’s 100 freestyle, and Piero Codia, who won the men’s 100 fly en route to a new Championships Record of 50.64, lobbing nearly a quarter-second off Laszlo Cseh‘s 2016 mark and posting the 2nd-fastest time of all 2018, behind only American Caeleb Dressel‘s 50.50 from the 2018 U.S. National Championships.
In addition to the individual champions, Italy brought home a pair of silver medals in the women’s 200 and 400 IM, thanks to 19-year-old Ilaria Cusinato, and a pair of bronze medals with Arianna Castiglioni in the 50 and 100 breaststrokes. Several other individuals picked up “minor medals,” as did the men’s 400 freestyle relay (silver) and 800 freestyle relay (bronze), as well as the 400 mixed medley relay (bronze).
Italy not only proved its metal in the pool, but also showed class in open water, where Ariana Bridi claimed gold in the women’s 25k, and Matteo Furlan bronze in the men’s 25k. Simone Ruffini also finished 5th in the men’s 25k, just 11 seconds behind Furlan. Rachele Bruni claimed bronze in the women’s 5k, with teammate Ariana Bridi finishing just off the podium in 4th. In the women’s 10k, three Italian swimmers finished top 8: Bridi took 8th, Bruni 4th, and Giulia Gabrielleschi 2nd, behind only Olympic champion Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands. Finally, in the team (mixed relay) 5k swim, the Italians placed 5th. The Italian men did not fare quite as well as their female counterparts in the 5k and 10k swims, though Furlan and Mario Sanzullo did manage 6th and 8th place finishes, respectively, in the men’s 10k, while Marcelo Guidi and Pasquale Sanzullo again finished 5th and 9th, respectively, in the 5k. It is important to note that Guidi and Pasquale Sanzullo are only 21-years-old, meanwhile Andrea Manzi is only 20-years-old, making them among the youngest open water swimmers in the field.
Beyond Euros, Italian swimmers also did well at the 2018 World Championships in Hangzhou, held in short course meters, where they won a total of seven medals, three of which were individual silvers coming from Quadarella (women’s 800 free), Orsi (men’s 100 IM), and Paltrenieri (men’s 1500 free).
All told, Italy broke 30 senior National Records in the pool in 2018, with the most impressive being Panziera’s pair of 200 backstroke records, including a 2:06.18 in long course and a 2:01.56 in short course, 21-year-old Andrea Vergani‘s 21.37 in the 50 LCM freestyle, and Codia’s 50.64 in the 100 LCM fly.
With the 11th-hour addition of sprint star Santo Condorelli, who represented Canada at the 2016 Olympic Games and 2015 World Championships, finishing just off the podium in the 100 free on both occasions, Italy seems to be on a promising trajectory to become a global swimming power and potential European hegemon.
- Argentina: Argentine women broke three South American Records in 2018, including the women’s 1500 freestyle, courtesy of Delfina Pignatiello, and the 100 and 200 breaststrokes, by Julia Sebastian. Though Argentina was not able to upset Brazil in the overall number of medals it won at the 2018 South American Championships in Peru, Argentina’s women still won 11 of the 20 possible gold medals at the South American Championships.
Previous Winners, and how they’ve built off their success:
- 2014 – Kazakhstan – two years after his success at the Asian Games, Dimitriy Balandin won Kazakhstan’s first-ever Olympic medal in swimming when he won gold in the 200 breaststroke in Rio.
- 2015 – Singapore – After the aforementioned hiring of Lopez, and Joseph Schooling just beginning to show hints of what he was capable of, Schooling went on to win Olympic gold, beating Michael Phelps, in the 100 fly in Rio. Now, his countrymate Quah Zheng Wen looks like he might have Schooling-like potential, and in total, the country broke 22 national records in 2017. They still only had two swimmers (Quah and Schooling) at the World Championships, but even after Lopez’s departure, the country continues to rise, at least against its own benchmark.
- 2016 – Canada – With Taylor Ruck missing the team, there were no women’s relay medals at the 2017 World Championships, and likewise no Penny Oleksiak medals (she had some injury issues). Still, Canada’s women’s team showed even more depth than they did in Rio. Sydney Pickrem took a bronze medal in the 400 IM at Worlds, likely would have scored a medal in the 200 IM if she hadn’t swallowed an insurmountable amount of water on the first 50, and Kylie Masse broke Gemma Spofforth’s suited World Record in the 100 backstroke.
- 2017 — Ireland — Ireland, similar to Singapore in 2015, scored big when it brought in two new star coaches from England: Jon Rudd, from Plymouth Leader Swim Club and the former coach at Ruta Meilutyte, and Ben Higson, from the University of Stirling, where he coached Robbie Renwick, Ross Murdoch, and Danielle Hiskisson, among others. Beyond the strong coaching hires, Ireland broke senior National Records in 37 events in 2017, and junior National Records in 30 events.