Rome (LEN) – With European swimmers dominating the open water scene in recent years, the 2022 edition of the European Aquatics Championships promises no less than world class competitions. 21 FINA Member Federations from Europe are entered the seven events that are to be staged during the second week at “Lido di Ostia”, the seaside resort situated 30 kilometers from the city centre of Rome and easily reachable by railway, bus or two freeways. 

Even though the athletes will most certainly not have the luxury to enjoy the ancient Roman archaeological site of Ostia Antica. Together with Pompei, these grounds – the first Roman colony founded in the seventh century BC by the legendary king Ancus Marcius – represent the largest archaeological site in the world encompassing an area of 150 hectares. Lido di Ostia already hosted the open water competitions at the 2009 edition of the FINA World Championships, several national events as well as swimming contests for lifesaving, aimed at promoting the culture of water with techniques and tools to responsibly experience bathing, drastically reducing the incidence of mortality from submersion and drowning.

While the lifesaver community has a strong presence at these Europeans – their representatives act as hostesses at the medal ceremonies, while Lea and Gastone, the two living rescue dogs are the official mascots of the Championships –, they may play a critical role at the open water events, as strong winds and the high waves already forced LEN and the LOC to reschedule the original programme. This somewhat recalls the memories of the 2009 FINA World Champs where a huge storm destroyed core parts of the temporary facilities on the eve of the competition, so the open water events had to be postponed by two days.

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Apart from the favourites, there were a surge of young and talented swimmers, such as Hungarian Peter Galicz (3rd 25km) and David Betlehem (5th 10km), Dutchman Marcel Schouten (4th 25km) and Lars Bottelier (6th 25km), or Austrian Jan Hercog (9th 10km), who celebrated the best ever Austrian open water result so far at World Championships at Lake Lupa.

One name is missing, though – the 2019 world and the 2021 Olympic champion Florian Wellbrock suffered a setback as he got Covid infection shortly after the Worlds finished in July, and the 1500m free race showed that he could not rebuild his usual shape – finished 5th – and decided the withdraw from the open water races. 

Men’s events: Italy with high hopes for “King Greg” Paltrinieri

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The majority of athletes, who battled for the world titles at Lake Lupa in the northern metropolitan area of Budapest five weeks ago, will be present. And among them “King Greg” is considered an almost sure bet as the strongest favourite here. Gregorio Paltrinieri recently won the 10km at the FINA World Championships in a sensational race as well as a gold medal in the 1500m pool event a couple of days earlier. The World champion is also the title-holder in the 10km as well as in the 5km event, though there are a fine line of fierce rivals who’ll be also there to abolish Greg’s Kingdom. French world champion Marc Antoine Olivier and the hero of the 2018 edition Kristof Rasovszky of Hungary, whose style is more fitting to the wilder waters that Ostia offers now, are among Paltrinieri’s strongest opponents.

Fans can also expect exciting races in the 25km, featuring French Axel Reymond, who won back-to-back titles world championship titles in 2017 and 2019, but his historical triple was denied by Italian Dario Verani over the last metres in Budapest. Verani secured the title by a margin of only 1,2 seconds and will aim to repeat this feat also in front of a home crowd.

Women’s events: Beck, Boy, Muller, Gabrielleschi and van Rouwendaal are the favourites

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The women's events also boast a wide selection of world-class athletes. 2016 Olympic champion and Tokyo Games Olympic runner-up Sharon van Rouwendaal (Netherlands) will be No 1. pick for gold – not only in the 5km and 10km event but also in the 25km where she claimed bronze at the Worlds with a great finish.

But no doubt, the seven-time European Champion will be hunted by a group of strong competitors – for example the 2022 World runners-up Leonie Beck (2nd 10km) and Lea Boy (2nd 25km) from Germany, France’s Aurelie Muller (2nd 5km), Hungary’s Anna Olasz (2nd at the 2021 Europeans), or Italy’s Giulia Gabrielleschi (3rd 5km) and Barbara Pozzobon (4th 25km). Each of these athletes is a top medal contender in the women’s events. 

Team event – an emotional highlight on Sunday

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The team event – introduced to the European programme in 2008 – always offers a great opportunity to show team spirit. The Dutch won the 2018 European edition in Glasgow ahead of Germany and France. Italy snatched European gold in Budapest 2021 and Germany arrives as the new 2022 FINA World champion – even without Olympic Champion Wellbrock.

There is not a shadow of a doubt that this event might be the emotional highlight to conclude the Championships on August 21 – at least one can hope that the full programme can be held, despite the windy conditions.

Of the 21 countries competing, one of them is Monaco with Theo Druenne, who made it to the Tokyo Olympics – but in the pool competitions, finishing 28th in the 1500m freestyle. He also swam in Budapest 2021 – in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyle.

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