World record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany and Katinka Hosszu of hosts Hungary claimed the first individual golds on Monday on the opening night of a European Swimming Championships lacking in star quality.
Biedermann charged from behind in the final lap to win the 400m freestyle, while Hosszu took the title in the grueling 400m individual medley.
Also, France dominated the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay and two-time Olympic champion Britta Steffen set up Germany for gold in the women’s race.
Before the session, a tribute was held to remember Alex Dale Oen, the 100m breaststroke world champion from Norway, who died suddenly from cardiac arrest three weeks ago. The video tribute brought tears to the eyes of many of the 16 Norwegian athletes competing, who are wearing black swim caps featuring Dale Oen’s initials on one side — “A.D.O.”
In the 400m freestyle, Biedermann clocked 3 minutes, 47.84 seconds, with Gergo Kis of Hungary second in 3:48.09 and Samuel Pizzetti of Italy third in 3:48.66.
Defending champion Yannick Agnel of France was one of several title holders skipping the event to avoid interrupting their Olympic preparations.
Biedermann was nearly eight seconds off his world record of 3:40.07 set with the now banned rubberized bodysuits at the 2009 worlds in Rome. He did not celebrate at the finish.
“I got into the race much too slowly,” Biedermann said. “I still have to work on that [before] the Olympics. I’m really happy with this European title, but unfortunately I once again missed the national Olympic qualifying time. Now I’ll probably have to accept a free ticket, as I’m qualified after my [world] bronze medal last year.”
Kis said his main races are the 800m and 1,500m, so this medal was a bonus.
Hosszu won the 400m individual medley in 4:33.76. Fellow Hungarian Zsussana Jakabos took silver in 4:35.68 and Barbora Zavadova of the Czech Republic took bronze in 4:38.07.
Defending champion Hannah Miley of Britain was also absent.
Completing her senior year at Southern California, Hosszu has had a busy season of races in the US.
“I had only two or three days of rest before the championships,” Hosszu said. “The 400 IM is an event that hurts. I didn’t expect to swim below 4:35.”
Jakabos said she would aim “for revenge” and to catch her teammate in London, while Zavadova celebrated her first ever international medal.
In the men’s relay, the French team of Amaury Leveaux, Alain Bernard, Fred Bousquet and Jeremy Stravius touched in 3:13.55, with Italy second in 3:14.71 and Russia third in 3:15.13.
Bernard will not defend his Olympic title in the 100m freestyle after failing to qualify for the event at the French trials.
In the women’s relay, the German squad of Steffen, Silke Lippok, Lisa Vitting and Daniela Schreiber clocked 3:37.98. Sweden — featuring 2009 100m butterfly world champion Sarah Sjoestroem — took silver in 3:37.98 and Italy — with Olympic and world 200m freestyle champion Federica Pellegrini — took bronze in 3:39.84.
Steffen swept gold in the 50m and 100m freestyle at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but withdrew from last year’s worlds in Shanghai.