Gergely Csurka, FINA Media Committee

Major swimming meets in the Duna Arena cannot be anything but thrillers and thanks to Gabor Zombori the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships took a flying start as the Hungarian 16 year-old stunned even himself by claiming the first gold of the meet in the 400m free. It was already big time, thanks to 2,000 fans so quickly came the first junior WR of the meet, courtesy of Alba Vazquez Ruiz in the 400m IM, followed by the second, set by the USA, in the men’s 4x100m free relay. The US also won the women's 4x200m free relay.

If anyone doubted whether the electrifying atmosphere of the memorable 2017 FINA World Championships could be recalled at a junior event at the legacy-mood Duna Arena in Budapest two years later, the answer arrived right at the start of the afternoon session of the opening day.

It took less than four minutes to see the stands erupting as local hero Gabor Zombori stunned everyone once again, including himself, by winning the 400m free at the beginning. More than two thousand fans yelled from the tribune as the 16 year-old copied his morning swim and left the pack behind after 50m and kept the lead till the end. 

Gabor Zombori even stunned himself with this victory - Credits: Aniko Kovacs

This event was meant to be a warm-up for him as he is focusing on the 200m events (free and back), instead he clocked a stunner, 3:46.97 in the heats, beating Aussie Mac Horton’s Championship Record from 2013. It was so out of the blue that unlike his seven rivals in the final, he had to swim in the 4x100m free relay as the anchor man since no one expected him making the final, let alone qualifying in the first place (and he didn’t want to spoil the other three team-mates’ day as no substitute was allowed at that stage so only the withdrawal would have been the other option).

But even if choosing that rockier path, he was back four hours later and managed to find some more speed though this time Australia’s Thomas Neill pushed him much harder. At the 300m turn only 0.04sec separated them but the Magyar withstood the pressure and improved his CR to 3.46.06 with a 0.21sec winning margin.

The party was kicked in and soon even more thrills followed. The women’s 400m IM also promised something extraordinary after the heats saw a balanced field. And it was a brilliant final indeed with the lead constantly changing. Alba Vazquez Ruiz was travelling in the third place till the 250m turn, then she changed gear over the breaststroke leg and rushed away from the others.

Alba Vazquez Ruiz was obviously happy after her junior WR swim

Isabel Gormley (USA) and Michaella Glenister (GBR) tried to chase her but Vazquez Ruiz didn’t let it slip from her hands, though the pace brought its fruits as she set the first Junior World Record of the meet (4:38.53).

Soon came the second, as the men’s 4x100m free relay produced an astonishing race. Italy led at the halfway mark but Adam Chaney clocked a brilliant 48.64 in the third leg and that set up their victory. Though Russian torpedo Andrei Minakov clocked 47.82 in the homecoming leg, he couldn’t bridge the gap, just managed to out-touch the Italians by 0.03sec to claim the silver while the US set a new WJR (3:15.80).

The US boys brought down the junior WR - though the gold was their real award

The last gold on offer also landed in the US, their women’s 4x200m free relay followed a similar pathway to the top, they were second at the halfway mark behind the Aussies but the took over the lead in the third leg and by the end they built a massive 2.38sec gap to bag this gold too. The Aussies kept the silver why Russia lost the bronze through disqualification – as it turned out, a false start already decided their faith so the bronze went to the title-holder Canadians.

All smiles - the podium of the women's relay