As one of the biggest sporting events in the world – in terms of participation and global exposure—the 2017 FINA World Championships will be one of the largest sporting showcases Hungary has ever hosted. The championships will bring to Hungary almost 3,000 athletes in six different disciplines, competing in 75 events over a period of 17 days. They will be the first athletes to test out Budapest’s brand-new, state-of-the-art swimming facilities and will fight it out for the medals and, who knows, perhaps the world records.
Event organizers endeavored to integrate the championship events as much as possible with the picturesque host cities. High diving will take place on the Danube at Batthyány Square, right across from the astonishing Parliament building. Open water swimming events will take place in Lake Balaton. Diving and swimming events will occur in the cutting-edge Danube Arena. The water polo matches will be played on Margaret Island. Synchronized swimming will be in the heart of Pest at City Park.
The first world record at this year’s Aquatics World Championship, according to Balázs Fürjes, government commissioner for flagship Budapest developments, will be set before the athletes arrive – by the architects. Originally, Hungary was set to host the 2021 FINA Aquatics World Championship, but plans changed when the 2017 host city, Guadalajara, Mexico, stepped back in February 2015. As a result, Hungary was left two years to complete planning and construction, instead of the traditional six years allocated for such a project.
In some ways, it seems like a homecoming to finally host the FINA championship. Hungary is a sporting nation, punching well above its weight in international games, and a lot of that success comes from water sports. After the 2016 Summer Olympic Games held in Rio, Hungary ranks second – slightly behind Finland – in Olympic gold medals won per capita (with an incredible 1 gold per 57,000 Hungarians).
In July, Hungarian aquatics competitors will enjoy a home court advantage, a luxury never experienced by athletes of past generations. The glory of competing in the name of Hungary in Hungary was never an option for athletes like Alfréd Hajós, Hungary’s first Olympic champion, after whom the Margaret Island swimming complex is named; Tamás Darnyi, the first swimmer ever to swim the 200-meter medley in less than 2 minutes; or Krisztina Egerszegi, who held the world record in the 200-meter backstroke for almost 17 years.
The FINA World Aquatics Championship will feature fierce competition. Whatever the outcome in the many events, one thing is sure: Hungary has already scored a win by successfully organizing it in record time. With less than seven weeks to go and the last-minute preparations being put into place, the excitement can already be felt in Budapest. Crossing my fingers and toes for the Hungarian national team!