2020 National Development Award: Turkey
In the year 2020, the nation of Turkey set a whopping 14 national records between short course and long course.
Breaststroker Emre Sakci was probably the most notable breakout in a year of breakouts for Turkey. The 23-year-old starred in the International Swimming League, setting new Turkish national records in the 50 breast (25.29) and 100 breast (55.74) in short course meters. His 100 breast was a drop of almost a second from his best time prior to 2020.
And Sakci – who is also the national record-holder in the 50, 100, and 200 freestyles – showed his versatility with the anchor leg of a national record-setting 4×200 free relay at the Turkish Championships.
Yigit Aslan and Mert Kilavuz battled back and forth throughout 2020 for the title of Turkey’s best-ever distance man. The 15-year-old Kilavuz set the long course national 800 free record back in February, going 7:55.28. But this week, 17-year-old Aslan pulled a two-for-one, breaking short course 800 free (7:47.38) and 1500 free (14:44.03) with the split time and finish time of his 1500 free. Then just two days later, Kilavuz beat Aslan in the individual 800 free, taking over the national record at 7:44.98.
Turkey’s youth is rising rapidly, especially in distance free. 15-year-old Merve Tuncel broke a world junior record in the women’s 1500 free this week. Tuncel went 15:45.29 to set the national record and swim under the world junior benchmark time untouched since it was set in 2015.
16-year-old Beril Bocekler set two national records this year, in the 400 long course free (4:09.60) and 800 short course free (8:19.24). Still a teenager, she owns national records in the 400, 800, and 1500 frees in long course and the 400 and 800 frees in short course.
For a nation with zero Olympic swimming medals and zero World Aquatics Championships medals, owning two world junior records is the brightest of bright spots. (Viktoria Gunes still owns the world junior record in the 200-long-course meter breaststroke from 2015. She set a senior national record in the 200 IM this year). Kilavuz still has three more years to make up about eight seconds on the world junior record in the boys 800 free. Aslan is just 17 from the 1500 free world junior benchmark time with one year of age eligibility left.
Since Rio, the Turkish swimming federation has launched a project called the Turkish Olympic Preparation Center, which features five different training centers: Ankara, Bursa, Kayseri, Trabzon, and Adana.
Gjon Skyti is the head coach in Ankara, training both Tuncel and Bocekler along with Deniz Ertain. In Kayseri, head coach Corrado Rosso leads a group that includes Aslan. Eray Acikgoz is the head coach at Bursa, and the other two sites are still seeking head coaches.
The Olympic quad following Rio has been outstanding for the nation of Turkey. In the last three calendar years (2018, 2019, 2020), Turkey has set national records in 54 of 90 overall swimming events. That’s a very rapid rise for a nation that looks ready to jump onto the world stage in the next Olympic cycle.
In no particular order:
- Poland: Poland had its own stellar year, setting an incredible 17 national records in short course meters, though they broke none in long course. Marcin Cieslak broke three himself (50 fly, 100 fly, 100 IM), while Kasia Wasick (50 free, 100 free) and Paulina Piechota (800 free, 1500 free) each had two.
- The Netherlands: The Dutch are probably too much of a swimming powerhouse to win this award, but even by their lofty standards, the Netherlands had a strong year. Arno Kamminga elevated his game in the men’s breaststrokes with three long course national records, and Kira Toussaint was one of the few world record-setters in the world this year. The Dutch women also time trialed a world record 4×50 free relay in December.