Monday in Budapest was great for Italy and Romania, superb for the young and, as so often at the FINA World Championships, good for the experienced from the US.
Italy’s Thomas Ceccon, 21, broke the first world record of the championships as he won the 100m backstroke. It was the second gold of the competition for Italy after Nicolo Martinenghi took the 100m breaststroke title the previous night.
In less than an hour, Italy had a third gold, as Benedetta Pilato won the women’s 100m breaststroke.
Pilato was the second 17-year-old to win on Monday and the third to take a medal. David Popovici, a 17-year-old Romanian, had seized the men’s 200m freestyle title.
Continuing the evening’s trend of 17-year-old medalists, Claire Curzan of the US took bronze in the women’s 100m backstroke.
Katie Ledecky — who, at 25, was the oldest winner of the evening by three years — reclaimed the 1,500m freestyle title. Her 20-year-old compatriot Regan Smith retained her 100m backstroke title.
Wining in 51.60 seconds, Ceccon shaved a quarter of a second off the 100m backstroke world record.
“Today, nobody could beat me. What a sensational time: 51.6,” he said.
Ceccon took the record off the US’ Ryan Murphy, who finished 0.37 seconds behind in second.
In a sport in which most competitors obsessively shave body hair, Ceccon has drawn comments for his moustache. Asked whether it has become a lucky charm, he shrugged.
“It’s just a moustache,” he said.
In the men’s 200m butterfly semi-finals, Taiwan’s Wang Kuan-hung, 20, failed to qualify for the final. He finished his heat in 1:56.23, 3.84 seconds behind the event leader, Kristof Milak of Hungary, who finished in 1:52.39.
Martinenghi was back in the pool on Monday dominating the 50m breaststroke qualifying. She has a world record, set last year, and a world championship medal, from 2019, both in the 50m breaststroke.
“Before the race, I was crying with joy for Thomas, who made me relive the sensations I felt when I set the world record and now, here I am with gold around my neck,” she said.
Pilato edged Germany’s Anna Elendt by 0.05 seconds, with Lithuania’s Ruta Meilutyte at 0.09 seconds.
Popovici took the 200m freestyle in 1:43.21 to break the world junior record that he set in qualifying.
“We just love swimming — we are just ordinary people doing amazing things, I think,” he said.
Popovici overhauled Olympic champion Tom Dean in the third lap of the 50m event.
Another teenager, 19-year-old South Korean Hwang Sun-woo, grabbed second, while Dean held on for third.
Popovici became the first Romanian man to win a world swimming title and said he was looking forward to making the short trip home.
“At the airport, chaos is going to ensue,” he said. “We saw that when I came from Tokyo, where I had fourth place. I’m ready for it and for a little celebration.”
Even at 17, Pilato and Popovici talked mental preparation for races.
“I can’t really sleep during the day,” Popovici said. “Sleeping is not the most important thing. What is important is disconnecting yourself from the world ... from social media, your phone ... anything that gets in the way of achieving my goals.”
“I have also overcome the anxiety, and learned to take things calmly,” Pilato said, referring to struggles she had at the Tokyo Olympics.
Ledecky cruised to victory in the 1,500m freestyle in 15:30.15, while compatriot Katie Grimes finished 14.74 seconds behind.
Ledecky had won three straight 1,500m world titles before illness ousted her from the 2019 final in Gwangju, South Korea. She won gold in the Tokyo Olympics.
Smith won the 2019 100m women’s backstroke world title, but was third in last year’s Olympics.
She made the most of the absence of Tokyo gold medalist Kaylee McKeown of Australia and took revenge on the silver medalist, Canada’s Kylie Masse, who was second this time.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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