Abu Dhabi: Siobhan Haughey, who made heads turn with the first swimming medals for Hong Kong China in Tokyo Olympics, added another chapter on the first night of the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) with her first world title – with a world record in the women’s 200m freestyle.
Beyond Haughey’s superlative effort, the first evening session delivered quite a few surprises: a world crown to Austria thanks to Felix Aubock; a global medley title by Canada and Tessa Cieplucha; a double podium from the rising Italian star Alberto Razzetti and a golden USA-Canada tie in the women’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay.
There was, of course, something routine: Daiya Seto claimed his fifth short-course world title in as many editions.
Posting the six best times this year and owning five of the 10 fastest ever swims set, Haughey finally lowered Swedish Sarah Sjostrom’s mark. Haughey won by a mile, finishing 1.93sec ahead of USA’s Rebecca Smith, a time generating a roar of approval from the stands in Etihad Arena. She managed to shave 0.12sec off of Sjostrom’s previous world mark (1:50.31) - which earned Haughey a bonus of $ 50,000 USD, an incentive all world record-beaters will receive from FINA at these short course world championships.
While Austria is more famous for achieving big things in the snow during wintertime, they can celebrate a world title, only Austria’s second in history following Markus Rogan claiming a title in 2008 at the last springtime short course world championships.
Felix Aubock did really well in the first final of the evening: the 25-year-old was all smiles after he hit first after a brilliantly executed race plan. A man of emotions, Aubock’s face was different back in May when tears of joy watered his cheeks after claiming his first-ever medal at a major event with a silver at the European Championships. In Tokyo, he showed different emotions for all the sad reasons as he finished fourth at the Olympics, missing the podium by 0.13sec. But now he blew up the field in Abu Dhabi and was sitting on the clouds while talking about his victory.
“Yeah, I was in tears in May, when I got my first medal at a big event at the Europeans, then came that painful fourth place at the Olympics, but now I’m world champion so I’m all smiles. Especially because I was not really good at short course swimming but today it was much better, what better – it was great! I’m 25, I’m enjoying the best year of my career and that is an amazing feeling.
Italy’s Alberto Razzetti saved his best to the end with a brilliant third 50m - positioning him well to the final assault which he delivered by leaving everyone behind. He won by a gap of 0.75 seconds and doubled down the world title after he won the short course Europeans five weeks ago in Kazan.
Razzetti delivered a double by clinching the bronze in the 200m Individual Medley. Only sprinter Filippo Magnini could win two medals in one edition among the Azzurri men but that was back in 2006 when Magnini took both the 100m and 200m freestyle titles - though not on the same day.
Daiya Seto continued his golden streak by winning the 200m Individual Medley comfortably. Bouncing back from the utter disappointments in Tokyo (no medals, despite arriving as the reigning world champion in both medley events), Seto was in a commanding mood once again as he expanded his winning streak to five editions, claiming gold in each world championships since 2012.
The women’s 400m Individual Medley also offered a surprise as Tessa Cieplucha claimed Canada’s first gold in the event by a quite comfortable margin of 0.97sec before Ireland’s Ellen Walshe.
The session-ending 4x100m Freestyle Relay offered the usual thrills. The women’s final turned into a Northern American affair as the US and Canada tied for gold.
The men’s 4x100m Freestyle Relay came down to the final sprint. While Italy seemed to be headed for gold, the Russian Swimming Federation’s Aleksandr Shchegolev hit top gear in the last 25m to reach the wall 0.16sec ahead of the Italians – his 45.53 was the fastest swim in the final.