Courtesy: Hungarian Swimming Association/Szabolcs Birkas-Kováts
After the slow and gradual restart of sports life in an unfortunate COVID era, the Hungarian Swimming Federation organized (one of) the first international swimming meets with the welcome participation of Austria, Czech, Poland in addition to a strong local representation. For all those who followed the contest it was encouraging to see that some outstanding results were achieved, giving hope to Hungary that this experience will support their swimmers through all the recent challenges and help them in their upcoming preparation for the postponed Tokyo Games (not to forget that Budapest is to host the LEN Europeans in May 2021).
The main goal of the 3-day contest was to create an atmosphere akin to a major competition, where those who may have lost some focus and/or motivation could incorporate this milestone into their preparation until the international swimming agenda offers more challenges in the near-future.
On the last competition day we organized a brand new, 4x50m free “gala relay” with the participation of top Hungarian athletes. We were delighted to have a very strong roster with Katinka Hosszú, Boglárka Kapás, Ajna Késely, Katalin Burián (EC bronze medallist 200 back), Kristóf Rasovszky, Péter Bernek, Nándor Németh (WC bronze medallist 4*100 free relay) and Ádám Telegdy (WC finalist 200 back) in the field along with 24 youth swimmers from the “Champions of the Future” program.
With this extra event the organizers had 3 main goals:
1.Provide fun for the athletes – no need to mention that with the cancellation/postponement of all competitions – the Olympics in particular – they’ve had a tough year emotionally. Senior squad members mentioned that this kind of innovation was much appreciated, it was nice to cool down with a race in which they had no previous experience. Moreover, they welcomed the idea to have similar endings at other major meets! The younger competitors were thrilled to swim with/against their idols, this session will be something for them to remember for a long time.
2.Grow the popularity of swimming – even though swimming is in the Top 3 sports in Hungary (in terms of medals won at the Summer Games) it is one of the toughest disciplines if someone wants to be really competitive. Our aim is to enlarge the pool of youth athletes and to involve more amateurs so that swimming maintains its’ leading edge. We followed the trend to always offer something fun and informal for the fans just like with the Eric Challenge from 2018 and with the relay swim of actors and actresses at the 2019 FINA Swimming World Cup.
3.Serve our partners – without events, sponsors visibility was significantly reduced in 2020, which we turned around with the fun relay in a subtle way. On top of the 50m free, swimmers had to carry out an extra task before the next team member could start his/her length. This is how the race was built up:
- Swimmer 1 swims 50 free, then jumps out of the pool and inflates a branded beach ball.
- Swimmer 2 swims 50 free then jumps out of the pool and takes part in a bottle flip challenge represented by a sponsoring water company.
- Swimmer 3 swims 50m free then jumps out of the pool and solves a simple puzzle with the event and a sponsor logo.
- Before the final lap all swimmers were asked to make an ARENA T-shirt completely wet, then they had to put the T-shirt on and complete the swim wearing the outfit.
For those interested you can watch the fun relay (without commentary) at the social media site of the Hungarian Swimming Federation.
We discovered some new ideas how to make such relays even more entertaining for the participants and the public (either on site or at home) but the most important is that even in such a traditional sport as swimming there is room and a need for improvement in the overall entertainment element. As a matter of fact Katie Ledecky just invented her own fun swim by taking part in the #GotMilkChallenge, so watch out for the next gala swim!