2022 FINA WORLD AQUATICS CHAMPIONSHIPS
- June 18-25, 2022 (pool swimming)
- Budapest, Hungary
- Duna Arena
- LCM (50-meter format)
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Mykhailo Romanchuk had an inspired performance in the men’s 800 freestyle final on Tuesday night in Budapest, but there have been bigger things on his mind over the last few months besides reaching the podium at the World Championships.
Romanchuk, a Ukrainian native who won two medals at the Tokyo Olympics last summer, made a charge to the front of the pack in last night’s 800 free midway through the race, but ultimately settled for the bronze medal in a time of 7:40.05.
The 25-year-old’s performance was exceptional on its own, standing up as the 10th-fastest swim in history while breaking his Ukrainian National Record, but it’s even more admirable that he was able to accomplish the feat during the unimaginably difficult situation going on in his home country.
Romanchuk’s father is currently in the midst of fighting off Russians in the east of Ukraine, where pockets of resistance are still denying Russia full military control of the region nearly four months after the initial invasion.
“He’s in a hot spot and it’s a hard time,” Romanchuk told Euro News after his bronze medal performance on Tuesday.
Romanchuk said the two don’t speak over the phone out of fear his father’s location could be tracked, though they’ve exchanged messages every day.
“It’s not possible for them to join the network because the Russians can search everything,” Romanchuk said. “But every morning he sends me (a message) that he is OK.”
Romanchuk’s journey to Budapest almost never happened, as he was considering retiring from swimming and joining his father in the fight before getting the call to come train alongside German Florian Wellbrock.
“My mind was to go to the war to defend my home,” Romanchuk said.
“We decided that I cannot do anything with the gun. For me, it’s better to continue training, to do everything that I do best. With my swimming, I can tell all the world about the situation in Ukraine.”
Wellbrock won the silver medal in the 800 free, with American Bobby Finke winning gold. All three set new National Records, and Wellbrock and Romanchuk embraced on the podium when the medals were presented.
Romanchuk added that he was both “proud and disappointed” in his third-place finish, and that his medal proves “that Ukrainians will fight to the end, it doesn’t matter what the situation.”
He also spoke about how he would’ve reacted if Russia and Belarus hadn’t been banned from competing in Budapest, and his feelings toward Russian swimmer Evgeny Rylov.
Rylov appeared at a pro-war rally in Russia in late March.
“My reaction could be maybe aggressive, I don’t know,” said Romanchuk. “Inside of me, I was ready to go and to kill him. But before he was a good friend. Before. But everything changed.”
He added that the carnage in Ukraine makes it hard for him to focus on swimming.
“Especially in the beginning when I moved to Germany to join the group. It was hard because mentally you are in the war and you are sleeping just three or four hours because you are always reading the news,” Romanchuk said. “It was so hard in the beginning, but then you understand that all you can do is to swim, to train, to represent your country.
“I’m so proud of all the people in Ukraine. This is all I can say. I’m proud of the people, of the government, the president. I’m so proud of them.
“And I’m really happy to be Ukrainian.”