Nanjing provides perfect springboard for Rio
While putting in top‐notch performances and providing spectacular entertainment, the swimmers at the Nanjing Natatorium were also completing an important stage in their burgeoning sporting careers. After having tasted success at the Youth Olympic Games, participants’ focus will now turn to Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020.
Romanchuk wins Natatorium opener
On 17 August, Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk claimed a gold medal in the men’s 400m freestyle in the first swimming final at the 2014 Summer Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing’s Olympic Sports Centre Natatorium, courtesy of a well-managed race during which he surged into the lead in the closing stages.
The confident 18-year-old was trailing in fifth position with 50m to go, but left Marcelo Alberto Acosta (ESA), Ahmed Akram (EGY), Henrik Christiansen (NOR) and Wojciech Jacek Wojdak (POL) in his wake to emerge victorious in a time of 3:49.76. Acosta took the silver and Christiansen bagged the bronze.
A physically drained Romanchuk had trouble putting his feelings into words after his momentous achievement. “It was a great race for me and I have a lot of emotions right now,” he said. “Before coming to Nanjing, I had high expectations. I thought I really needed to win the gold medal in either this event or the 800m.
In the day’s other final, the Chinese quartet prevailed in the mixed 4x100 freestyle relay following a stirring comeback sparked by the team’s impressive third swimmer, Yu Hexin, who laid down a marker for the individual events to come. In a repeat of his performance in the heats, he propelled the Chinese quartet from fourth to first place, laying the foundations for a victory that would be achieved in 3:27.02, 4.53 seconds faster than runners-up Brazil. Australia, 4.7 seconds back, secured the bronze medal.
Medal bonanza for Hungary, Russia and Italy
Hungarian swimmers shone on the second night of the swimming programme. After Liliana Szilagyi had emerged victorious from the women’s 200m butterfly, her male compatriots Benjamin Gratz and Norbert Szabo picked up a gold and bronze respectively in the 200m individual medley. Sandwiched in between them was Lithuania’s Povilas Strazdas.
While Szabo was disappointed by his swim, Gratz was pleased for the Hungarian team as a whole. “We’re happy that Hungary’s doing so well here, but there’s still work to do. There are quite a few days left, and we shouldn’t count our chickens before they’re hatched,” he stated.
Russian and Italian swimmers also won two golds each, with the first pair coming in the same race: Evgeny Rylov (RUS) and Simone Sabbioni (ITA) were involved in a dead heat in the 100m backstroke, as they both touched the wall in 54.24 to share top spot on the podium. “I’ve never finished first equal with another swimmer before; I’m very happy,” explained Sabbioni.
“When I finished and saw the number one displayed, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought I was second but then suddenly we were level, so I just gave it everything I had. It’s my most important win to date.”
Nicolangelo di Fabio recorded Italy’s second triumph of the night in the 200m freestyle. “I feel like I’m walking on air, because I didn’t think I had a chance of gold beforehand,” said the youngster, who finished strongly in 1:48.45 to overtake Dutchman Kyle Stolk (1:48.59) and Germany’s Damian Werling (1:48.91).
The second Russian success, meanwhile, was provided by Anton Chupkov in the 100m breaststroke. Chupkov, who had set a junior world record in the semi-final, finished comfortably ahead of Maximilian Pilger (GER) and Carlos Claverie (VEN) in a time of 1:01.29.
Elsewhere, Patrick Mulcare (USA), of whom much was expected after his second-placed ranking in the heats for the 200m individual medley, could only manage fourth in the final. He cited lack of energy as a factor in his disappointing evening, during which he ended up last in two other finals, the 200m freestyle and 100m backstroke. “I can’t compete in three events scheduled in such a way, and I’ve only just realised that,” said the Oregon native. “After finishing the race, I almost felt like I was going to be sick. I was completely dead.”
British make the breakthrough
In the Natatorium’s only individual men’s final on the night of 18 August, China’s Li Zuhaho pipped Aleksandr Sadovnikov (RUS) to gold by 3/100ths of a second in a closely contested 100m butterfly duel. Nicholas Brown (AUS) obtained the bronze.
“I’m proud of having beaten these swimmers from all of the world and in front of such a great crowd,” stated the delighted winner. Sadovnikov, meanwhile, put his second place down to visibility problems and bad timing. “I accelerated at the halfway point, but I couldn’t see what was happening ahead of me, and I messed up my touch. My hands were in the air, when they should have been touching the wall,” he explained.
Great Britain earned their first swimming gold of the Games, leading from the outset of the 4x100m freestyle relay to gain a remarkable result. The team of Luke Greenbank, Miles Munro, Scott Duncan and Martyn Walton, which qualified for the final with the fourth fastest time, finished in front of Italy and Germany, whose anchor sped from seventh position to third, thereby denying pre-race favourites Russia the bronze.
“Everyone did brilliantly; I’m happy with that,”said Walton, who swam the third leg. “That was my last race and I’m overwhelmed by how well we did. British swimming always steps up in relays. Hopefully we represent the future.”
Triple glory for Rylov
Before a raucous home crowd on 20 August, Yu Hexin confirmed his rising star status by landing the day’s first gold medal in the 50m freestyle final. After having put in a dazzling display in the 4x100 freestyle relay three days earlier, Yu stretched out the field to win in 22.00 seconds, getting the better of Brazil’s Matheus Santana (22.43) and Trinidad and Tobago’s Dylan Carter (22.53).
However, the night arguably belonged to Evgeny Rylov, who acquired his second and third gold medals of the Games in the 50m backstroke and 4x100m medley relay. In the former race, a record time of 25.09 saw the Russian defeat Apostolos Christou (GRE) and Simone Sabbioni (ITA), who collected silver and bronze.
In the latter event, Rylov and team-mates Anton Chupkov, Filipp Shopin and Aleksandr Sadovnikov led throughout to capture the title in 3:38.02, 1.28 and 2.66 seconds ahead of Germany and Australia respectively.
Ippei Watanabe (JPN) did not enjoy the same luxury, and was forced to dig deep to overhaul Carlos Claverieon the final length of the 200m breaststroke to snatch gold with a time of 2:11.31. Anton Chupkov finished third, adding another medal to his CV in the process.
After being awarded his medal, Watanabe was invited to the VIP area of the pool to meet Chad Le Clos (RSA), Olympic 200m butterfly champion at London 2012 and YOG ambassador, as well as IOC President, Thomas Bach. “I’m extremely satisfied with how I’ve performed at the Youth Olympic Games,” said the 17-year-old Asian. “That race was really tough. I’m now going to set my sights on Tokyo 2020.”
In order to take a third gold and be crowned unofficial king of the sprints in Nanjing, Yu Hexin was forced to stretch every sinew as he reached for the wall at the culmination of the 50m butterfly final on 21 August.
He only just managed to see off the challenge of Dylan Carter in 23.69 seconds. The Trinidadian, who clocked in at 23.87, had led for the majority of the race. Mathys Goosen (NED) snatched bronze in 24.13.“It’s amazing; it’s so special,” declared Yu.
“Overall, I’m very satisfied, but on the other hand, I’m quite frustrated. I didn’t swim as well as I can. My energy levels could have been better.”
There were no stamina problems for Egypt’s Ahmed Akram, who bounced back from the disappointment of finishing fourth in the 400m freestyle by sealing an unforgettable 800m success over the much-fancied Mykhailo Romanchuk (UKR).
“I’m very proud of myself,” remarked Akram. “In the 400m, I missed out on a medal by 20/100ths of a second. In the 800m, my qualifying timewas 8:02, and I’ve just won in 7:54, which is fantastic. I was a bit disappointed by my fourth place earlier in the week, but I decided to just put it out of my mind. I told myself it was a new day, and now here I am with a gold medal.”
Final day fireworks
Having already pocketed three medals– two golds with the Chinese 4x100m freestyle and 4x100m medley relay teams and a bronze in the 100m backstroke – Li Guangyuan put the icing on the cake by powering past Evegny Rylov to triumph in the 200m backstroke on 22 August.
The 17-year-old recorded a time of 1:56.94, just 14/100ths of a second quicker than his Russian rival, whose silver took his own medal haul to four. Luke Greenbank (GBR) was a distant third.
In the 100m freestyle, 18-year-old Matheus Santana, runner-up to Yu Hexin over 50m, broke the junior world record to come out on top in 48.25 and relegate his Chinese challenger to second place on this occasion.
Yu (49.06) snared silver by 1/100th of a second from Germany’s Damien Wierling. Santana, the new star of Brazilian swimming, shed tears of joy on the podium, and will be confident of making waves in front of an adoring Rio de Janeiro public in two years’ time.
The 200m butterfly final proved a memorable one for Hungarian swimming, as Tamas Kenderesi took gold in 1:55.95 ahead of his compatriot, Benjamin Gratz, who touched the wall1.76 seconds later. “What Hungary’s swimming team proves is that hard works pays off, and we all work very, very hard. It’s as simple as that,” explained Kenderesi. Giacomo Carini (ITA) earned the bronze medal.
Croatia’s Nikola Obrovac provided some hope for the future by claiming the Balkan nation’s only swimming medal in the 50m breaststroke, his time of 27.83 enough to see off Carlos Claverie (29.94) and Anton Chupkov (28.43), who had amassed six medals between them up to that point.
“I’m very happy,” exclaimed the 16-year-old Croatian. “It’s unexpected because I’m two years younger than all the swimmers I raced against. It’s really a huge surprise.”
In the final swimming event of the Games, China brought the curtain down in style by winning the mixed 4x100m medley relay. The event saw Yu Hexin become the most successful male swimmer in Nanjing with four golds and one silver.