Italy reigned supreme in the pool with emphatic wins in the third leg of the World Series in Lignano Sabbiadoro at the weekend.
London 2019 world champions dominated from the opening race with a clean sweep and a world record in the men’s 100m freestyle.
The two-day meet, which ended on April 18, at the Bella Italia Village sports centre, was the first international competition for a year for the home-grown athletes following the cancellation of the World Series 2020 at the resort.
Seven-time world champion Simone Barlaam set a blistering pace in the inaugural race to win gold in the men's 100m in 54.52, which earned the S9 swimmer 1,012 points. His compatriot Antonio Fantin (S6) picked up silver and an S6 world record of 1:04.52, and in bronze was Francesco Bocciardo (S5).
“It felt very good to be back in the water after so long away from international competition,” said Fantin.“I am very happy with my performance as I didn’t expect to start so well. It is a great pleasure to be here.”
Barlaam also won the 50m freestyle in 24.88 ahead of Fantin and Carlos Serrano Zarate (S7) of Colombia, who notched up a victory in the 50m butterfly.
Fantin later gave a show-stopping performance in the 400m freestyle, in 05:01.02, to beat world record holder Boki Ihar (S13) of Belarus into second.
Record for Belarus
Belarus was responsible for another world record in Lignano Sabbiadoro with Aliaksei Talai (SB1) in the men’s 50m breaststroke in 1:18.42.
The gold in that race was matched by another victory in 150m individual medley in 5:00.47. In both races Italy’s Efrem Morelli won silver.
“I can’t wait to tell my family and friends,” said Talai. “I am so happy and proud that I made my world record here as it will make my connection to Italy even stronger. It will be in the history of the sport. Lignano is so beautiful.
“I was tired on the day, but, perhaps, it was the good Italian food that made me strong. This is my first international competition this year and it was a great opportunity to race and to see my friends from all over the world.”
Among the other double-gold medal winners was nine-time world champion Carlotta Gilli (SM13). She landed ahead of Russia’s Daria Pikalova (SM12) in the 200m individual medley and the 100m backstroke.
Stefano Raimondo (S10) also hit the top spot in the 100m backstroke and 100m butterfly. He touched the wall ahead of teammate Barlaam who won silver and bronze, respectively.
World champion Arjola Trimi (S3) claimed gold and a European record in the women’s 100m freestyle in 1:33.92, with Gilli in silver, and a second gold in the 50m freestyle.
“I am really happy with my achievement,” said the S3 swimmer. “I am happy to be part of an international competition again. It is my first of the year and it went really well.”
Chance for Tokyo
The Lignano Sabbiadoro meet was an important fixture for the 189 athletes from 27 countries in the run-up to the Paralympic Games in Tokyo in August. Many were there to record times that would put them in contention for selection. This included the home nation, which has come to dominate the sport since winning only two Para swimming golds in Rio 2016.
The battles in the pool were intense as world record holders lined-up in 17 races. As well as the Italians, there was Belarus’s Boki and Talai, Colombia’s Serrano, Spain’s Antoni Ponce Bertran and Teresa Perales, Germany’s Elena Krawzow, Russia’s Roman Makarov and Ukraine’s Denys Dubrov.
Colombia’s Nelson Crispin (SB6) claimed the men’s 100m in 1:18.90 and an Americas record.
“I am very happy with my medal,” he said. “I think it is very positive going forward to the Paralympics this year.
Spain’s Ponce Bertran (SB5) came second in the race but topped the podium in the men’s 200m individual medley ahead of Serrano Zarate (SM7).
Austria’s Janina Falk (S14) also recorded double gold wins in the women’s 100m butterfly in 1:09.33 and 200m freestyle in 2:18.88. Germany’s world record holder Elena Krawzow took victory in the women’s 100m breaststroke.
Among the international visitors was refugee athlete Ibrahim Al-Hussein who is trying to qualify for his second Paralympics. The Syrian-born Para swimmer competed in the men’s 50m and 100m freestyle S9 at Rio 2016 as part of the Refugee Paralympic Team. He came third in his S9 class in the 50m free in Lignano.
There were no spectators at the meet due to COVID-19 restrictions, but fans had the chance to watch the competition on World Para Swimming channels. Viewers would also have seen excellent performances from Italian gold medal winners Angela Procida (SB1), in 50m breaststroke, Giulia Terzi (S7) in 50m butterfly and Kevin Casali (S14) in 200m freestyle.
Complete results from Lignano Sabbiadoro can be found here.
Berlin, Germany is set to host the next leg of the World Series 2021 on 17-20 June. The previous stops were in Sheffield, Great Britain, and Lewisville, USA.
The World Para Swimming Points System is used during the World Series to calculate the athletes’ results. At the end of the tournament the top female and male swimmers are declared season winners.