The 18th FINA World Aquatics Championships kick off a 17-day run in the southwestern city of Gwangju, Friday, a biennial meet of the world’s swimming and diving stars. Taking place at five different venues in Gwangju and nearby Yeosu, South Jeolla Province, through July 28, this year’s event is the largest ever, with 2,639 athletes from 194 countries participating.
Here are some of the interesting storylines to follow.
A prelude to 2020 Tokyo Olympics
With a year to go until the next summer Olympics, the International Swimming Federation World Championships set the stage for the battle of titans to play out in summer of 2020 in Tokyo.
The lineup of athletes includes global heavyweights and superstars Katie Ledecky and Caeleb Dressel from the US, the UK’s Adam Peaty and China’s Sun Yang, just to name a few. But South Korea’s “Marine Boy” -- Park Tae-hwan, the country’s one and only Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer -- is sitting out the competition.
At stake are Tokyo Olympics berths and 76 gold medals in six disciplines: swimming, diving, water polo, artistic swimming, open-water swimming and high diving.
Will the US retain the upper hand?
In medal rankings, an interesting storyline to watch unfold is the rivalry between Team USA and China.
The US, a traditional powerhouse in competitive swimming, has accumulated by far the greatest number of gold medals, 253, in previous FINA championships, with China a distant runner-up at 130.
However, China managed to dethrone the US recently, taking the top spot on the medal table at the 2015 championships held in Kazan, Russia, with 15 gold, 10 silver and 10 bronze.
The host country, Korea, despite being a regional sports power, has traditionally lacked enthusiasm for swimming and diving competitions. It has produced few world-class water sports athletes, with Park standing out as an exception.
For the ongoing event on its home turf, it has assembled the largest-ever team with 82 athletes. Team Korea’s goal is to clench a single medal, with female swimmer Kim Seo-young being its best shot.
Low-cost, high-efficiency event
The Gwangju organizing committee has taken a “low-cost, high-efficiency” approach, refraining from building new facilities. The five competition venues are not newly built, but with the addition of temporary structures they meet FINA requirements for international events.
The total budget for the event stood at 224 billion won ($191.3 million), just 5.24 percent of what Korea spent on the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.
Despite the tight budget, organizers are upbeat that Gwangju will mark the largest, most successful and most cost-effective event.
The FINA championships are considered one of the five major sporting events worldwide, along with the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, the FIFA World Cup and the track and field event the World Championships in Athletics. With Gwangju hosting the FINA event, Korea becomes the fourth country -- joining Germany, Italy and Japan -- to have hosted all five.
It is the third time for a FINA event to take place in Asia, after Fukuoka, Japan, in 2001 and Shanghai in 2011. The next host will be Fukuoka again.
Following the event for elite aquatic sports athletes, the FINA World Masters Championships will take place at the same venues in Gwangju and Yeosu from Aug. 5-18.
About 8,000 aquatic sports enthusiasts older than 25 will compete in 63 events in five disciplines -- swimming, diving, water polo, open-water swimming and artistic swimming -- for 14 days. Starting in 2015, the masters competition has been held jointly with the FINA World Championships.
By Lee Sun-young (email@example.com)