Since the Duna Arena opened its doors in the Hungarian capital in early 2017, Budapest has quickly become one of the top global destinations for fast swimming, and it started with its inaugural hosting of an international event in the FINA World Championships 2017.
The global showcase of the world’s top aquatic talent will return to the Duna Arena in June 2022. A myriad of major swimming events have been held in the facility over the last five years, from the FINA World Championships, FINA World Cups, and FINA Junior World Swimming Championships, making the Duna Arena a reliable facility for fast and exciting swimming.
As the countdown to this summer’s FINA World Championships marches on, we look back at some of the most memorable races from the maiden voyage of the now-famous Duna Arena, starting with the men’s 200 butterfly final from 2017.
Ahead of the 2017 Worlds, with the retirement of USA legend Michael Phelps, the attention had shifted to the previous Olympic champion from 2012 - South Africa’s Chad Le Clos, as well as the darling of the Hungarian crowd, the reigning world champ from 2015 Laszlo Cseh. The Olympic silver and bronze medalists from Rio - Masato Sakai of Japan, and Tamas Kenderesi of Hungary were figuring to be in the talks for the much-coveted gold medal, as Sakai led the world rankings for the first half of 2017 with his compatriot, individual medley star Daiya Seto, sitting in second. Kenderesi sat third, while USA’s Jack Conger was fourth, who was looking to carry on the USA dominance in the event Phelps had carried for so long.
Cseh had been the sentimental favorite, and the capacity crowd in the arena made it known which swimmer they wanted to see take home the gold medal. Cseh had long been second behind Mr. Phelps in his career, and as he got up there in age while continuing to stay on the podium at major international meets, many in the building and watching around the world were hoping to see the iconic bald head of Cseh win one more gold medal in his home country, whether it was the last time the sport would see him or not (spoiler alert, he kept on going another four years to finish his career at a fifth Olympics in Tokyo). It wouldn’t have been his first gold medal at a FINA World Championships, but it definitely would have arguably been his most memorable.
Moving to the 2017 final in Budapest, six of the eight returned from the Rio final 12 months prior, making this a true rematch of what transpired in Brazil on the sport’s grandest stage. Le Clos made it no secret what his race plan was, attacking each of the first two rounds with a blistering pace on the first 100, hoping to have a big enough lead that he could hang on against the closing speed of the other athletes.
Sakai and Kenderesi had tremendous second 100s in the 2016 final, and both caught Le Clos to push him off the podium. Le Clos had made it a point to erase that defeat and avenge it with a gold medal in Hungary.
And in the final, the South African did just that, building over a second lead at the halfway mark ahead of Kenderesi and Seto, just off of Phelps’ world record pace.
With the crowd roaring on the third 50, the field started to catch Le Clos, and many in the venue were left wondering if either of the Hungarians could run him down. Le Clos looked visibly more and more tired with each stroke, and at the 150 turn, his lead had shrunk by a half-second and both Hungarians were in position to run to take the lead, with Seto also in striking position.
With the Budapest crowd roaring, Le Clos had found another gear, but Cseh was responding to the home crowd and mounting a charge. A year prior, Le Clos fell apart on the last 50 and wound up in fourth, but this time he had hung on to win the gold medal with a 1:53.33 - his fastest time in the event in five years. Cseh’s last 50 push was not enough, winning silver in 1:53.72, while Japan’s Seto won bronze at 1:54.21.
Le Clos, aware of the moment for the Budapest crowd, raised Cseh’s hand in appreciation for his longtime rival so the fans in the stands, no matter which country they represented, could applaud the living legend for winning his 13th (and would be final) World Championships medal.
Flash forward to 2022, Le Clos is expected to again contend for a medal but will have his hands full with a different Hungarian rival - this time with world record holder and reigning Olympic champion Kristof Milak coming in as the huge favourite to win gold in 2022 and end the year as the world’s top 200 butterflyer for the fifth year in a row.