The 15th Fina World Swimming Championships (25m) Abu Dhabi 2021 has set a new benchmark, highlighting the UAE's status as a premier sporting destination once again.
The week-long championships at the Etihad Arena on Yas Island drew 1,100 competitors from 183 countries vying for 46 world titles and a prize fund of $3.2million - the highest in the history of Fina.
The event saw several new championships records established, including four world records, making it a truly memorable championships.
Hong Kong’s Siobhan Haughey started things off by clinching women’s 200m freestyle gold in a world record time of one minute 50.31 seconds, while Sweden equalled the 4x50m medley relay world record set by USA in the event’s previous edition.
Canadian Margaret MacNeil smashed the women’s 50m backstroke record before Florian Wellbrock broke the men’s 1,500m record on the final day of the event. The record holders had more reasons to celebrate in the form of $50,000 bonuses for their efforts.
As Fina president Husain Al Musallam aptly put it, performances in the pool and the championships' organisational excellence have raised the bar.
“Abu Dhabi has laid a new benchmark in every sphere from the organising of the championships and coordination, and particularly in the handling of the Covid protocols,” Al Musallam said at the closing ceremony.
“I expect the 19th Fina World Championships (long course) in Fukuoka in May will not be less than Abu Dhabi, not only in terms of the facilities but the numbers, coordination and Covid protocols in place.
“The success in Abu Dhabi is the athletes competed, they achieved results, received fabulous prize money and were offered fantastic facilities. This is what I expect from Fukuoka.”
The competition in Abu Dhabi was not just confined to the purpose-built pool but also extended to the aquatic festival that included the Fina High Board Diving World Qualifier and the Fina Marathon World Cup, held across seven days.
‘‘Over the last week, Abu Dhabi has been at the centre of the swimming global sphere, not only with the excitement in the swimming pool, but also across high-diving and open water swimming,” Aref Al Awani, general secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said.
‘‘The championships was broadcast to a global TV audience across 133 countries, including CCTV in China, NBC in North America, Super Sports across Africa and our host broadcasters, Abu Dhabi Sports Channel.
“During an exhilarating week of world-class sporting competition, we witnessed four world records being broken, with a total of 46 crowned world champions.”
According to Al Musallam, the Abu Dhabi edition of the world swimming championships was one of the finest in the event’s history for many reasons.
“This week, the world’s most talented swimmers lined up on the world stage to display their talent and abilities to thousands of spectators inside the Etihad Arena and, of course, to millions of TV viewers around the world,” he said.
“This led to plenty of thrilling action in the pool with four world records being broken, making the 15th edition of the event among the finest in the event’s history.
‘‘This shows that our sport is going in the right direction as more people around the world aspire to be the next world champion.
“Whether the athletes have won a medal or not, we believe every swimmer who has competed this week is indeed a winner.
“We understand travelling and participating in these challenging times is not easy, but I would like to express my gratitude to them for being here in Abu Dhabi and helping make this edition a resounding success.’’
Haughey said she and her nation can look back at the Abu Dhabi edition with great pride.
“It was amazing to know that I was the first person from Hong Kong to win a world championship and break a world record,” she added.
“I’m sure in the future there will be a lot of up-and-coming swimmers who can achieve the same thing too.
“Since day one, when I broke the world record, the Hong Kong, China team has been doing really well and made a lot of finals and it’s been a great week for the whole country.”
Aidan Heslop was among the winners at the Fina High Diving Qualifier, executing one of the hardest dives ever attempted to triumph in the final round of the men’s event.
The Briton, 19, who received sevens from the judges to secure a winning score of 436.90 points. And that summed up the level of the Abu Dhabi championships.