The European Junior Championships are quickly turning into one of my favorite events. There’s a great atmosphere, great competition, and a highly supportive fan-base (even in a country like Serbia that doesn’t ahve a long swimming history). And better yet, LEN, the Federation that governs European Swimming puts on an exciting meet that keeps constant action in the pool.
Day 2 was another thrilling day of action, and finally saw a European Junior Record go down. There were also several Senior National Records broken, in addition to hoardes of National Age Group Records, in the most momentous day of swimming we’ve seen in 2011 so far (at any level for that matter).
In the men’s 100 back, Germany’s Christian Diener split some serious hairs to miss the European Junior Championship Record set by Laszlo Cseh. In yesterday’s semi-final, he swam a 55.11 to miss the record by just .05. In today’s final, he dropped time, but still managed to be .01 seconds away from Cseh’s record of 55.06 set in Glasgow in 2003. As it stands, he emerges from the meet with the two-fastest times ever swum by a German 18-year old.
There’s still a little bit of a German crowd in front of him in the backstrokes, but don’t be surprised if Diener is able to earn a spot at the Olympics in 2012.
For the host-nation Serbian Fans, the versatile Velimir Stjepanovic might be the future of their swim program, but this meet is still a rare opportunity to see him compete in front of a home-crowd. That’s because Stjepanovic has spent most of his swimming career training in Dubai, where his parents live. He certainly didn’t let the home crowd down, when he broke through as Serbia’s first finalist of the meet with a 1:59.36 in the 200 fly, which breaks the Serbian National (not junior) record and gives him the 3rd seed headed towards finals.
The excitement over Stjepanovic’s swim might be overshadowed in tomorrow’s final by Hungary’s Bence Biczo, the youngster who ranks 2nd in the world in this event and who Tom Willdridge picked as a silver-medalist in this race in London. He will be by far the top seed in tomorrow’s final with a 1:55.92, which just misses his own European Junior Record set at last year’s meet by exactly a tenth.
The women’s 200 fly, which unlike the men’s race was a final, was a lopsided race early that turned into an awesome, gutsy battle late in the race. Great Britain’s Elena Sheridan jumped out to a lead at the halfway point, but at that point visibly tightened up. That’s when Liliana Szilagyi, the latest in an incredible line of Hungarian 200 butterfliers, made her move to crush her Britsh competitor on the third-leg and take a sizable lead. Georgia Barton, another Brit, fought hard to stay in the race as well, though she would ultimately fall well-off the pace on the final leg.
Sheridan wasn’t done however. She finished the race by splitting a 32.81 (her fastest split of the race aside from the opening 50) to blow to a finishing mark of 2:10.40, which ranks her 34th in the world this year and as the 3rd-fastest British swimmer. Szilagyi finished 2nd in 2:10.90.
She’s an immense talent that’s rising at an impressive rate. Coming into this season, her career-best was a 2:15-high. She’s now cut over five seconds off of that time (and nearly three in the last two weeks alone). She’s going to have trouble taking an Olympic spot from Ellen Gandy or Jemma Lowe, who are 19-and-21 respectively, but if she continues this pace of improvement, the UK could soon have three of the best in the world in this race in the near-future.
Yet another Junior Championship record was shaken in the women’s 100 free. The French are more typically known for their male sprinters, but 16-year old Charlotte Bonnet is causing a lot of excitement on the women’s side, especially for French senior swimmer Camille Muffat, who has been looking for teammates to round out a potentially-dangerous 400 free relay. Bonnet missed Silke Lippok’s Championship record in today’s 100 free final by just two tenths, with a winning time of 55.25.
Bonnet crushes her competition off of the blocks, beats them to the turn, and then uses her endurance (she’s also a great 200 freestyler) to obliterate them on the closing 50. She’s the real deal, and her time here wasn’t even her best of the season, as she’s preparing for the World Championships in Shanghai.
And finally, after all of the record scares, Bonnet led her French 400 free relay squad to a new European Junior Championship Record in the 400 free relay of 3:44.66. The foursome of Camille Gheorghiu, Assia Touati, Beryl Gastaledo, and Bronte featured four 56’s, and a 55.59 anchor from Bonnet. The previous record was set in 2009 by Germany. This French junior relay is swimming so well right now that it’s probable they would beat France’s best 17 & over relay head-to-head.
Denmark’s Mie Nielsen was the only other relay swimmer under 56, with a 55.75 to anchor her country’s 6th-place effort. She was also second in the individual. The UK squad, that featured yesterday’s 400 IM champion Siobham-Marie O’Connor on the leadoff, was 2nd in 3:46.42.
In a peculiar show of versatility, Ireland’s Sycerika McMahon became the meet’s first double-champion when she took the 400 freestyle title in 4:13.85. You might expect that her day 1 victory would have also come in a middle-distance race – perhaps the 400 IM. That would be a false assumption, however, as her previous victory yesterday was in the 50 breaststroke. I can’t think of the last swimmer who had quite this diverse of talents (though surely one of our readers will), but McMahon is the holder of 14 Irish 16 & under records, ranging from the 50 breaststroke and 100 free to the 400 IM and 1500 free. In fact, she currently holds an Irish age group record in every discipline of swimming aside from the backstrokes.
In the men’s 1500, the Italian duo of Gregorio Paltrinieri (15:12.16) and Gabriele Detti (15:16.86) topped the medal-stand, though neither approached the 15-minute barrier that looked within reach for at least Paltrinieri. In third-place in this race was Turkey’s Ediz Yildirimer, who broke his own National Record in the race by four seconds with a 15:25.71.
Italy picked up another title on the 2nd-day of competition: this one in the 200 breaststroke in 2:14.68 from Flavio Bizzarri. That time was good enough for a win, but just missed by .01 his mark that won the Italian National Championship in April. He’s likely saving his taper for more distant horizons, namely the World Championships. The runner-up was Matti Mattsson from Finland in 2:12.65, who actually held the lead through 150 meters.
The other final of the day was the women’s 200 back, where Italy moved into the lead in the medal haul thanks to yet another win. Federica Meloni won the women’s 200 back in 2;14.88, just ahead of Iceland’s Eyglo Osk Gustafsdottir in 2:14.95.
At the end of two days of competition, Italy and Great Britain are tied with eight medals a piece. Italy, however, earns tie-breaker honors at the top of the medal table with four golds. Thus far, 16 Nations have already won medals, which speaks to the awesome diversity of this meet.