Tamas Gyarfas, Editor-in-chief, FINA Aquatics World Magazine (HUN)
Something you’ve never seen before. I know you’ve heard this promise before - but we truly are preparing innovations in Budapest which will be real premières in the history of the FINA World Championships.
High diving into a giant pool on the riverside, synchro pools in the middle of a lake and a brand new state-of-the-art indoor swimming stadium in place.
The naming event for the new complex, Danube Arena, was held in February, in the presence of FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu. He, as much as anyone, is a man who has seen a lot of buildings dedicated to aquatics in the past decades, so he knows what he was talking about when he said that he had never witnessed a complex being constructed in such a short period of time.
Well, the memories are still fresh from May 2015 when the first steppingstone was laid by FINA President Dr. Julio C. Maglione, together with Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Budapest Mayor Istvan Tarlos.
We can recall the smiles, the speeches of belief that we could deliver on time... But in the background experts were fully aware that normally it takes three rather than two years to construct a complex like this. In Budapest it was finished in one year and a half.
Construction under constant FINA control
One of the major players in the process was Joaquin Puyol, Chairman of the FINA Facilities Committee, the mastermind behind several great pools all over the world. But for the first time ever, our architects and constructors asked for full FINA control, virtually from scratch, in order to have a perfect building, catering to all demands for the largest-scale event in aquatics.
Those who have been lucky enough to visit the place already, all agree that it’s a breathtaking venue. A delegation of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics organising team paid a visit to Budapest just to discover the new palace of pools which can serve as an example because, although it might lack the extraordinary look, its efficiency and the smart solutions make it an iconic venue.
the Danube Arena was celebrating the 100 days count down
The most awaited swimming competitions of the World Championships were staged in outdoor pools (between 1973 and 1998, and again in 2005 and 2009), then in Myrtha temporary pools built in multi-purpose arenas (2001, 2003, 2011, 2013), in a tennis hall (2007) and, most recently, in a football stadium (2015) – but this is going to be the very first time that the swimmers will take their marks in a traditional indoor swimming pool.
Up till now such outstanding and amazing venues have awaited participants only at the Olympics – now swimmers can compete in the traditional environment at a World Championships in Budapest.
Let me add once more: this was the reason we started the whole project to host this event. The championships gave Budapest the opportunity to build an ultra-modern swimming complex for the benefit of the Hungarian swimmers and water polo players (and divers with an indoor platform). Hungary’s swimming legends have heavily contributed to the government’s decision to build the state-of-the-art venue and to file the bid – and in FINA’s decision to award the event to Hungary.
Then just go up to an exclusive terrace, located 35 metres up above the River Danube and take a look southward.
The first thing you’ll see behind Budapest’s longest bridge (named Arpad, 4km-long) is the wonderful Margaret Island, the green heart of the capital, where, apart from two hotels and an outdoor theatre, only sport facilities have been built. The pool to be located on the Margaret Island is a symbol in water polo – It is widely said that “Until you have played on Margaret Island you are not considered a real water polo player.”
The big difference for 2017 is that a total of 8,000 sits for fans will be added and the fan zone on the other side of the island will draw thousands more who can follow the action in front of the giant screens.
A riverside tower
Going a little bit further to the south now, you will see another unique venue – you can walk or take a boat to reach it – on the right side of the Danube, just opposite one of Europe’s most magnificent buildings, the Parliament: the 27m-tall high diving tower will rise from the lower embankment.
To be honest, I saw the drawings, the designs, but I still cannot image what it will look like in reality. Even less can I imagine how the brave divers will jump down from the skies to the temporary pool with a diameter of 14m.
All in all, under the wonderful Castle Hill, opposite the Parliament, on the river bank we’ll have the proud high diving tower. Of course, temporary stands will be erected there, too, but the three-day event can also be followed from either side of the river, from the two most beautiful bridges (Chain Bridge and Margaret Bridge) but also from the cruise ships moving up and down the Danube. We have toyed with the idea of setting up the diving facility on the Chain Bridge and creating a fenced area in the river but due to the high uncertainty – and considering FINA’s intention to guarantee the utmost safety for the athletes – we opted to have another first-ever solution, to build a temporary pool for the high divers.
Lakes: a temporary and a living one
Now that we have reviews the venues alongside the river –let’s look at the lakes.
First of all, an artificial lake in Budapest, next to the iconic Heroes Square and the city’s largest green area, the City Park (Varosliget). This is a ‘summer-only’ lake: in winter time hundreds come to skate in the neighbourhood of two beautiful buildings, constructed in 1896 to celebrate the millennium of the founding of our state. The good old main building of the Ice Rink Palace will serve the comfort of the synchro swimmers in July, while Vajdahunyad Castle on the other side will ensure an outstanding backdrop for the competitions.
And the synchro complex, composed of two temporary pools, will be surrounded by the temporary lake. So, if you like, the world’s best synchro swimmers are going to perform their routines in the middle of a lake. Breathtaking – both the routines and the view from the stands accommodating 5,000 spectators.
Now let’s head towards another lake – the biggest one in Central Europe: Lake Balaton. This is the place for the open water swimming races, bringing another first-ever feature. In the history of the FINA World Championships this year’s edition will mark the first occasion to involve a co-host city.
Though it’s located some 120km from Budapest, which definitely means a logistical challenge for the organising team, still, anyone visiting the city of Balatonfured would approve of our choice immediately. And don’t forget that Balaton has become immensely popular among the open water swimmers in recent years. After the continental events we hosted World Cups and a Junior World Championships, so a really experienced team is working on the preparations here. The plans have been finalised and as I write these lines the melting period is also over... Believe it or not, back in January and February hundreds skated where the world titles will be at stake in July.
The brand-new swimming pool is open, so in the summer an indoor training facility will be offered to the participants in the city and not in the neighbouring Balatonfuzfo – and the monumental underground parking lot is just being constructed next to the venue. It’s needed badly as Balatonfured is a classical holiday resort where tens of thousands of visitors gather for summer weekends as the lake area’s best hotels, restaurants, festivals can be found here. This will be bettered by the World Championships – so the teams can count on an enormous cavalcade and huge interest on all the competition days.