Ukranian ex-pat Gunes breaking new ground for Turkey with first 3 world golds

17-year-old Viktoria Zeynep Gunes has made herself a strong candidate – if not the front-runner – for the honor of top female swimmer at the 2015 FINA World Junior Championships.

But she’s also lifting her new swimming nation to heights it’s never seen before. In four days in Singapore, Gunes has won Turkey’s first three long course world-level swimming medals of all-time.

Gunes has only been competing for Turkey since 2014, and the story of how she wound up in a Turkish swim cap is a wild one.

A child swimming prodigy in Ukraine, Gunes competed under the name Viktoria Solnceva, setting Ukranian records in the 100 and 200 breaststrokes by age 15 – national records she still holds.

But when Russia controversially invaded the Ukraine in 2014, Solnceva and her family quickly packed up their lives and fled to Turkey, changing their name to Gunes in the process.

(HaberTurk.com chronicles the Solnceva/Gunes family’s journey in Turkish here. You can also find a Bulgarian piece on Gunes, then competing as Solnceva, and her youth success in Ukraine here.)

Viktoria quickly caught on with the swimming federation in her new homeland, and has brought Turkey to an unprecedented level of world swimming.

Prior to 2015, Turkey had never won a long course swimming medal on the world stage. The only world-level swimming medal in the country’s history is a 2000 bronze medal from short course worlds, won by Derya Buyukuncu in the 100 back.

But in just a week, Gunes has piled up three Junior World Champs gold medals for her new nation, with at least one more medal likely to follow later this week.

Gunes won the 50 breast early in the meet, then completed a tough double on day 4, winning gold in the 100 breast and 200 IM in the same finals session with just three events in between.

That 200 IM was a new Junior World Championships meet record, and the 100 breast nearly broke a record of its own, held by now-world record-holder Ruta Meilutyte.

On Sunday, she’ll go for a sweep of gold medals in all three distances of her stroke, something that has never been done in Junior World Championships history. Already the junior world record-holder in the 200 breast, Gunes should have a very real shot to do just that.

But as big as this week is in terms of breakthroughs for Turkey, Gunes offers hope of a Turkish arrival on an even bigger stage.

Currently, Gunes ranks inside the top 11 in the world in all three of her events for the year: #6 in the 50, #11 in the 100 and #7 in the 200, before even swimming that final event at Junior Worlds.

For a young swimmer with the potential for big improvement ahead of her, those ranks don’t put a world medal at the senior level out of the question – whether at a future world championships, or perhaps even at next summer’s Rio Olympic Games.

For a young woman who’s had to deal with the uncertainty of political turmoil in her recent past, that’s a pretty bright-looking future.

In This Story

8
Leave a Reply

3 Comment threads
5 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
4 Comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Alex

Traitor

anonymus

u mad?

anonymus

no seriously, be happy you wasnt in her position and be quiet

Alex

Dear friend, I am from Crimea and I know what I am talking about. So better hold your tongue 🙂

Gina Rhinestone

There is another Solnceva here .i’ll let others check if it was Ukraine or Russia team .

Good luck to Viktoria because Turkey is again at a crossroads . Will another Ataturk rise up or will Isil take over . ( third option a military coup might be the least deadly) .

Better luck for Turkey . Their last Ukrainian instant star( track 1500 ) with brand new name was later found to be a man or sky high testosterone levels – something like that .

Ira

No difference between Ukrainian competes for Canada or Turkey. Most important Victoria is very successful and others are not. That’s why they call her traitor.

Gina Rhinestone

Yes there is . In this case Viktoria could have moved to another part of Ukraine . The Crimean Peninsular is only a very small land mass & one that had autonomous status including it’s own parliament which had a 2008 vote to re unite with Russia on its books (I read that but I’d need to find confirmation ) .

So in fact she has ditched theUkraine system that sustained her . Perhaps she has Turkic roots but Crimea has not been Turk since 1780. I’d need to know much more about where she lived/ trained but there are bigger issues . Over a Million ppl have fled Ukraine .

Alex

Absolutely agree, that is her choice, of course. But in Crimea nothing terrible (I mean there was now war as in we have now in Donbass) was happening. Those who wanted, just moved to other parts of Ukraine. It is more an excuse. But again, that’s her choice, but for me personally she is a traitor.

About Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson

Jared Anderson swam for nearly twenty years. Then, Jared Anderson stopped swimming and started writing about swimming. He's not sick of swimming yet. Swimming might be sick of him, though. Jared was a YMCA and high school swimmer in northern Minnesota, and spent his college years swimming breaststroke and occasionally pretending …

Read More »

Want to take your swimfandom to the next level?

Subscribe to SwimSwam Magazine!