Back in 2015, Hungary did not expect to be hosting the 17th FINA Swimming World Aquatics Championships in two years’ time. The 2017 event was originally scheduled to be staged in the Mexican city of Guadalajara, with Budapest hosting the 2021 championships; however, the 2017 event looked to be in jeopardy when Guadalajara unexpectedly pulled out. When it was agreed that Budapest should take its place, the race was on to be prepared for the event in time.
FINA - the Fédération Internationale de Natation (International Swimming Federation) - is the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognised federation for administering international water sports competitions. The biggest FINA event on the calendar, the biennial World Aquatics Championships, is currently held every odd year.
Spread across two indoor and three outdoor venues, one of which is 120km away at Lake Balaton, the championships include the disciplines of swimming, synchronised swimming, water polo, open water swimming, diving and high diving.
The Dagály Swimming Complex
The central venue for the championships, the brand-new Dagály Swimming Complex will be hosting the swimming and diving events. It has two Olympic-sized pools, one three metres deep and the other with an adjustable depth. Although it has permanent seating for 5,000 spectators, the complex has been designed to house temporary stands to increase the capacity to 15,000 for the 2017 championships and future international events. These removable stands can be transported and reused at other venues, while the complex will be in continual use as a public leisure facility and a venue for all aquatic disciplines.
Given the short notice for the event, the construction of the complex in just two years is an amazing accomplishment.
Alfréd Hajós Swimming Complex, Margaret Island
Offering a contrast to the state-of-the-art Dagály complex, the Alfréd Hajós Swimming Complex, or ‘The Hajós’, is named after Hungary’s first Olympic champion, who won the 100m and 1,200m freestyle events at the first modern Olympics in 1896. Built in 1930 in less than a year, the venue was later expanded to include eight indoor and outdoor swimming and diving pools. This venue is no stranger to international events - it’s more recent expansions were completed in time for the 2006 European Championships. Located on the 2.5km-long, 500m-wide Margaret Island in the middle of the river Danube in central Budapest, the facility is well known in the sporting world as the training ground for Hungary’s formidable water polo teams. Already prominent Olympic and Championship medal winners, the teams could well prove difficult to beat on their home turf.
Heroes Square and Batthyányi Square
The UNESCO world heritage site of Heroes Square, with its stunning architecture and monuments, stands next to the City Park ice rink, which will be turned into temporary pools to provide a venue for the synchronised swimming. Diving pools will be set up near Batthyányi Square, across the river from the parliament buildings, and the high diving events can be watched from either the embankment, from boats on the river, or from the bridges. These two outdoor venues promise to make watching these disciplines a spectacular experience.
Balatonfüred - Lake Balaton
Like the Hajós, Lake Balaton has seen numerous national and international competitions. At 77km long and 14km wide, the lake is the largest freshwater lake in Central Europe. In 2017, it will host the open water swimming events.
Compared with some other sporting championships, the Swimming World Aquatics Championships is a relatively new fixture, with the 2017 event only the 17th in its history. The first championships took place in 1973 in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and in 1975 in Cali, Columbia. There was no championship in 1977; however, between 1978 and 1998, it took place every four years in the even years between the Olympics. In 2001, this changed again to become a two-yearly event, held in odd years.
Participation has grown steadily over the years, from 686 athletes from 47 different countries in 1973 to over 2,400 athletes from over 190 countries in 2015. More events are added within the six core disciplines with each meeting.
At the heart of the championships is its swimming events, in freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, butterfly and individual medley. Freestyle events for men and women include 50m, 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and 1,500m, whereas the breaststroke, backstroke and butterfly styles are swum at distances of 50m, 100m and 200m. The individual medley distances are 200m and 400m. 4x100m relays are swum in freestyle and medley; in addition, there is a 4x200m freestyle relay. From 1991, open water swimming was added to the championships, consisting of men's and women's events over 5km, 10km and 25km and a 5km mixed team race.
Water polo has been an important feature since the first championships in 1973. An Olympic sport since 1900, water polo involves two teams comprising six field players and one goalkeeper. Each play a game of four quarters, scoring goals by throwing the ball into a net at either end of the pool.
Another core discipline, diving sees men’s and women’s events from 1m, 3m and 10m boards, with men’s, women’s and mixed synchronised diving from the 3m and 10m boards. In 2013, the spectacular discipline of high diving was introduced to the championships, with the women's competition from the 20m board and the men's competition from the 27m board.
Synchronised swimming has also been a mainstay from the beginnings of the championships, with only women allowed to compete; however, with the introduction of the mixed free duet and mixed technical duet, men have been able to take part for the first time.
Mixed team events
2015 was a significant year for the championships, as it saw the introduction of mixed team events in several of the disciplines - most notably the synchronised swimming, a discipline from which men are still barred from competing in the Olympics. The 4x100m freestyle and medley relays also gained mixed team entries, as did diving's 3m and 10m synchronised events.
Mixed teams are not new to the championships, however. In 1998, the open water swimming included two mixed team events for the 5k and 25k races. Mixed teams did not make an appearance again until the mixed 5km race was reintroduced in 2011, with this event continuing through 2013 and 2015.
Athletes who compete in this prestigious event range from juniors to masters, and it is not uncommon to see records broken during the World Aquatics Championships. In 2015, 12 world records were broken in the swimming discipline alone. The most notable athlete for achieving this was Katie Ledecky from the US, who won five gold medals and broke three world records. Sweden's Sarah Sjöström broke the world record for the women's 100m butterfly twice - once in the semi-final and once in the final. Adam Peaty from Great Britain broke the world record for the men's 50m breaststroke and was part of the record-breaking 4x100m mixed medley team.
With almost 3,000 athletes expected to attend in July, this is the largest international event Hungary has hosted. Against the backdrop of Budapest's beautiful architecture and the landscapes surrounding Lake Balaton, the 17th World Aquatics Champions promises to be a spectacular showcase of international sport.