Key officials from Abu Dhabi Sports Council, FINA and the UAE Swimming Federation welcomed some of the international and Emirati aquatic athletes who will be competing in the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) and the Global Aquatics Festival.
The athletes were welcomed at an official opening press conference held at the FINA Market Street at Yas Island’s Etihad Arena on Wednesday 15th December, attended by His Excellency Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, Sultan Al Samahi, President of the UAE Swimming Federation, Captain Husain Al-Musallam, FINA President and Brent Nowicki, FINA Executive Director.
They were joined by an array of swimming and diving stars from around the world who will all be aiming to impress and vie for glory in front of thousands of spectators at the Etihad Arena over the course of six days. In attendance was Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri, 4-time Olympic medalist who dominates across both pool and open water swimming. American swimming Abbey Weitzel an outstanding relay swimmer who won two Olympic medals both in Rio and Tokyo, including a gold in 2016. Ana Marcela Cunha from Brazil – arguably the greatest female open water swimmer of all time, and the reigning Olympic champion. Representing the UAE Yousef Al Matrooshi who competed at the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer. Melissa Wu – one of the most decorated female Australian divers of all time, and the youngest Australian diver ever to win an Olympic medal, at the age of 16.
The official opening press conference was also held to mark the start of the FINA World Aquatics Festival, featuring all swimming disciplines for the very first time in FINA history, including diving, high diving, and open water swimming, alongside the World Championships.
Prior to the press conference the aquatics festival got underway with the Mixed Relay (4 x 1500m) open water swim competition. Victory in the inaugural open water mixed team relay went to Italy, as the team, led by swimming sensation Gregorio Paltrinieri, soared to take home gold in the Yas Bay waters. His split of 15:49.1 was the fastest of the 9 teams. He swam 3.2 seconds faster than Hungary’s Kristof Rasovszky who doggedly challenged him in the final lap.
A historic six days of action on Yas Island began with the sound of the start horn blown by FINA President Husain Al Mussalam to signal the start of the first-ever mixed team open water relay (4x1500m). As the ten teams dived in to kick off the event, Ukraine’s Igor Chervynskiy emerged first in the opening leg, before Hector Pardoe from Great Britain put his team ahead at the halfway point. In the last two laps of the relay, the Italians began to move ahead with Domenico Acerenza moving his team into top spot before his fellow countryman, Paltrinieri, held off Hungary’s Kristof Rasovszky to secure victory for Italy.
His Excellency Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council, said: “Abu Dhabi is continuing to underline its fast-growing reputation as a global sporting capital, and a city capable of hosting safe events during the pandemic. Just as Max Verstappen was crowned World Champion last weekend at the Formula 1 Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, now the water is ready for more than 1,000 aquatic stars from over 180 countries!”
“Over the coming days these athletes will demonstrate what this sport is all about – skill, incredible strength, determination, teamwork – as well as physical and mental power. These qualities resonate well with us in this emirate, which places a very strong focus on health and wellbeing – and in building an inclusive society. Together with our thousands of spectators I cannot wait to watch these athletes in action.”
Sultan Al Samahi, President of the UAE Swimming Federation, said: “This coming week at the FINA World Swimming Championships, 6 of our most talented and promising swimmers will be lining up against the world’s best and will showcase their talent and abilities to thousands of spectators inside the Etihad Arena and of course to millions of TV viewers around the world.
“The opportunity to compete in this prestigious global event is certainly one they will enjoy and is a testament to their commitment and efforts that they have put in every day. We hope they can inspire the next generation of swimmers with their participation.”
During the press conference, Australian diver Melissa Wu said: “I’m delighted to be in Abu Dhabi for the FINA Aquatics Festival. It’s been a fantastic year so far. I won my first medal when I was 16, and in between I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, before I won the bronze in Tokyo this summer! That was a super special moment for me. It was an incredible feeling, so I’m really excited for the week ahead.’’
Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri said: ‘‘It was a tough race. Since Tokyo, I have been focusing on pool training, mostly on the 1500m. Today was a race in the sea but it was also a 1500m race, so I decided to swim the relay. Relays are always fun. I won’t be swimming the 10km tomorrow. I battled with Kristof for the last 200m, and he was trying to stay close to me. After the last bouy I gave it everything I had, and he wasn’t able to pass me. It’s an honour to compete for your country, and we won this for Italy today”
Combining world-class athleticism with plenty of entertainment for the family to enjoy, fans attending the FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) will also have access to the FINA World Aquatics Festival and can also experience the ‘Market Street’ – an interactive event village packed with family-friendly entertainment, cultural learning experiences, retail booths and delicious food and beverage for all.
Tickets for the World Championships are available across several categories including individual race heats (starting from AED 10), individual race finals (starting from AED 25) and exclusive packages for all races (starting from AED 150). Family packages are also available for two adults and two children under the age of 16, and start from AED 50, for individual races and AED 500 for all races.
Tickets for the FINA World Swimming Championships (25 meters) can be purchased via EtihadArena.ae.