Russian Swimming Federation’s Kliment Kolesnikov took gold
Russian Swimming Federation’s Kliment Kolesnikov took gold Image Credit: Supplied

Russian Swimming Federation’s Kliment Kolesnikov took the headlines on Day 4 at the Fina World Swimming Championships in Abu Dhabi as he won the 100m Individual Medley and the 50m Backstroke in 80 minutes, bringing his total to four medals here – and 15 in 2021, only majors considered.

The highly anticipated clash of Ranomi Kromowidjojo of the Netherlands and Sarah Sjostrom of Sweden, two of the most decorated female swimmers who are also among the fastest ones in history, ended in the second-fastest effort ever in the 50m Butterfly as Kromowidjojo won in 24.44sec, reaching a never-before-seen speed in a textile suit.

While China’s Li Bingjie added the 400m crown to her 800m title from yesterday, Shioban Haughey of Hong Kong went on writing history by finishing third as she became the first woman in almost half a century to claim medals in the 100m-200m-400m Freestyle in the same championships.

Israel’s Anastasia Gorbenko also bagged her second title here, she won the 100m IM, and there were a couple more of really fast swims, like Ben Proud’s blast in the 50m Freestyle, the Italian relay in the men’s 4x50m Freestyle - and the USA quartet just missed the world record by only 0.19sec in the men’s 4x200m Freestyle.

Kliment Kolesnikov is a unique phenomenon in the world of swimming. A humble, ever-calm, ever-friendly athlete – all this besides being one of the best ones currently on the planet. Today he just offered something special again as he clinched two titles within 80 minutes, first in the 100m Individual Medley, then in the 50m Backstroke. His tally stands at four medals here, as he already had a gold in the 4x100m Freestyle Relay and a silver in the 100m Backstroke.

Today’s double reinforced Kolesnikov’s status among the top medal-collectors at the 2021 majors: he had three golds and a silver from the l/c Europeans from Budapest, a silver and a bronze from the Olympics, six more medals from the short-course European championship titles in Kazan - including three individual titles. With four more podiums here, his total stands at 15 - and counting.

He could have sat on cloud nine, or paraded through the mixed zone, throwing commonplaces at the media if stopping at all. Instead, he is the one, in the truly upper crust of world class athletes, who kindly chats with journalists after his first event rather than tell them that he’d come back after the second go-around through the media mixed zone as he still has more job to do.

“I am really happy, and I feel so free and comfortable, maybe thanks to the lot of races I had during the last few months” shared his thoughts after the 100m Individual Medley. “I enjoyed swimming together with my friends, and I congratulate all the guys.”

Then, one and a half-hour later, he came through again and talked even longer to the Russian press, then answered all other questions as well. The one referring to his amazing 2021 medal hunt (15 podiums so far) surprised him.

“If you say so, you are probably right. Honestly, I’m not counting this,” Kliment said. “I just love swimming, love to be ready and doing my races. I mean, it was really great to win these two events today, we are all tired here, it was a really tough season, with a lot of meets so if you win at the end of the year, that’s a pleasure.”

What also makes Kliment unique among the others is his very visible necklace with a cross, worn all the time, during races as well. In a sport, where everything is about optimising your speed via shaving and wearing the best-aiding suits, this is a spectacular exception.

“Some told me in the past I may lose time because of that but only one referee tried to force me to put it down back at a junior Europeans – our team’s staff intervened so it remained in my neck. I never thought that it could affect my times, my performances. This is about my religion, my faith, so it never crossed my mind to swim without it.”

As for the other stories of the day, a fantastic relay final kicked off the evening session. In the 4x50m Freestyle, an outstanding anchor leg by Alessandro Miressi secured the title for Italy (0.06 takeover time, followed by a 20.61 blast), while the next three hit the wall within 0.06sec, with the Russian Swimming Federation claiming the silver, ahead of the Netherlands. The American men, leading at the halfway mark and still second before the last leg, left the pool empty-handed.

Next came one of the most awaited ‘duel in the pool’, featuring two of the fastest females this sport has ever seen. Dutchwoman Ranomi Kromowidjojo took on Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom in the 50m Butterfly and this time it was Kromowidjojo who touched in first, 0.07sec ahead of her arch-rival to retain her title from 2018. Her 24.44 is the second-fastest swim ever, a Championship Record, with only Sweden’s Therese Alshammar’s world record (24.36) from 2009 better than this, captured at the height of the shiny-suit era. The USA’s Claire Curzan took the bronze en route to setting the junior world record (24.55).

“One more to go to catch up Katinka,” Ranomi said on her quest to pass Hungary’s Katinka Hosszu on the all-time medal-ranks (it’s 27-26 as of now). “This is my personal best, only Therese (Alshammar) could swim faster than this. It’s somewhat owed to Sarah as she always makes the races tough for me. The world record was also in my vision. I was close but never mind – a gold and a lifetime best is pretty much enough, for sure.”

In the women’s 100m Individual Medley, Israeli Anastasia Gorbenko proved to be in her own class again. The 18-year-old is enjoying a breakthrough season: she won the 200m Individual Medley at the long-course European Championships in May, repeated that feat at the short course Europeans in Kazan and now captured her second title here after triumphing in the 50m Breaststroke. Oh, and she also bagged three golds at the Berlin leg of the World Cup series.

There was no doubt that China’s Li Bingjie would grab the 400m title after her overwhelming win in the 800m a day earlier. She was the only one in the field whose splits remained under 30sec in all but one leg as she went on to win comfortably by a 2.04sec advantage over her nearest rival.

“This is a great win which I kind of expected,” Li said, even offering a great smile while talking. “I was a bit tired after the 800m, but a good sleep helped me to get ready for today and I’m really happy with this gold medal and with the time too.”

Canada’s Summer McIntosh came in second, and Siobhan Haughey of Hong Kong China got the bronze, a historical addition to her golds from the 100m-200m free. Indeed, medalling in the blue-ribbon sprint event plus in the two middle distances is truly breathtaking. One needs to go back to the 1970s to find anything similar among the women: Aussie legend Shane Gould achieved it at the 1972 Olympics and USA’s Shirley Babashoff repeated the feat at the 1975 Worlds.

As for the men, only the almighty Ian Thorpe could complete this hattrick, with the Aussie legend completing it twice – at the 2003 FINA World Championships, 2004 Athens Olympics.

Though, just like Haughey, none of these all-time greats were able to claim three golds: all had two gold, paired with a silver or bronze.

Just two weeks ago, Britain’s Ben Proud blasted a 20.40 in the 50m Freestyle during the ISL Finals, a season-best. This performance places him fifth among the fastest-ever swimmers, and it was also an all-time Top-10 performance. So, it’s not surprising that his speed was once again unmatchable for the others as he hit the wall in 20.45, gaining 0.26sec over runner-up Ryan Held of the USA.

“I’m happy and surprised as I came here after a lot of racing in this season,” Proud said. “I’m really tired so I tried to handle it the best I could, and to finish with a time just off my best is something I wouldn’t have expected. I’m happy that I’ve done it in the final when it really mattered. You know, I wasn’t really happy with my swim last night, I wanted to come back to fix it and I did, so I’m really happy with this result.”

The last final of the day almost brought another world record in the men’s 4x200m Freestyle Relay. After three almost identical 1:41min splits, the USA quartet was well under world record pace, only to miss the global mark by 0.19sec at the end. Had anchor Ryan Held not swum the 50m free final 50min earlier, we might have had an even more spectacular ending to this day.