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Italy wins team title on final night of Roma 2022 swimming

Italy claimed two further gold medals on the final night of European Championship swimming at the Foro Italico, helping the hosts secure the overall team title.
Victories for Thomas Ceccon (100m backstroke) and the men’s 4x100m medley relay team helped the hosts to a stunning total of 35 medals, 13 of them gold. It equated to 1190 points, helping them finish well clear of France (641) and Great Britain (622). There were also impressive victories for Britain’s Ben Proud, Hungarian Hubert Kos, Ruta Meilutyte of Lithuania, German duo Lukas Märtens and Isabelle Marie Gose, as well as Lana Pudar of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On paper this final may not have possessed some of the biggest names on show during the final night, but it produced one of the most impressive results. 20-year-old German Lukas Märtens made his breakthrough with 400m silver at the Budapest World Championships earlier this year and began his Roma 2022 campaign with second in the 800m.
Countryman Henning Muehlleitner was the quickest qualifier for the final, but Märtens produced a greater performance and supercharged finish saw him power home in three minutes 42.50 seconds – setting a new European Championship record in the process. Antonio Djakovic of Switzerland (3:43.93) claimed silver, with Muehlleitner (3:44.53) taking bronze.

After claiming the World as well as the Commonwealth 50m freestyle titles and qualifying for the Roma 2022 final with the quickest time Ben Proud was the overwhelming favourite for gold. The 50m ‘splash-and-dash’ events are always tight races, but this perhaps even more so than usually with Proud unable to power clear of his rivals. In the closing stages little separated the entire field and heading into the wall six of the eight swimmers looked in medal contention.  Proud timed his lunge towards the wall to perfection though to complete his stunning hattrick of titles in 21.58 seconds – just 0.02 secs ahead of Leonardo Deplano of Italy. Kristian Gkolomeev finished third in 21.75.

This promised to be one of the most fascinating finals of the competition as it featured Greek 50m champion Apostolos Christou, 200m gold medallist Yohann Ndoye-Brouard of France and the 100m world record holder Thomas Ceccon of Italy. True to their form this week Christou began strongly and Ndoye-Brouard finished with a flourish, but it was Ceccon who delivered the masterclass performance for gold.  The Italian finished in 52.21, with Apostolos second in 52.24 and Ndoye Brouard third, 52.92.

Lana Pudar made her senior breakthrough in December 2021 with a 200m bronze at the Fina short course World Championships in Abu Dhabi. She only turned 16 the following month and after three gold medals at the European juniors in Romanian in July the Bosnia and Herzegovina swimmer began her Roma 2022 campaign with bronze in the 100m. The teenager was out in lane two, but delivered a breakthrough championship performance to claim her maiden senior international title in 2:06.81. Danish swimmer Helena Rosendhal Bach, 22, also attained her maiden senior long course medal with silver – 2:07.30, with Ilaria Cusinato of Italy third.

If there was any swimmer who deserved a little fortune on the final night of Roma 2022 swimming it was Hungary’s Hubert Kos. Twice he had finished fourth this week and the 19-year-old has endured a series of near-missed throughout his career. 17 August 2022 was the day that finally changed. Kos produced the performance of his life (1:57.72) to hold off 400m IM champion Alberto Razzetti (1:57,82), as well as Gabriel Jose Lopes (1:58.34) to claim gold.

The near capacity crowd, approaching 7,000, in the stands were hoping to see 100m champion Benedetta Pilato ‘do-the-double’ over the 50m distance. She was the second quickest qualifier though with London 2012 Olympic champion Ruta Meilutyte recording the best time of her career in the semi-finals.  The Lithuanian made the stronger start and although Pilato narrowed the gap in the final meters Meilutyte stretched and reached the wall first in 29.59. Pilato took silver in 29.71 with Britain’s Imogen Clark third in 30.31.

Including Roma 2022 Italy’s Simona Quadarella has dominated the distance freestyle events at the last three editions of the European Aquatics Championships. Defending her 400m, 800m and 1500m titles was the target for this competition and after successes earlier this week she ‘just’ needed one further success to complete the ‘triple-triple’. Germany’s Isabelle Marie Gose had other ideas though and while many thought she might tired in the closing stages after pacy start, she held that momentum and ultimately the Italian was unable to respond. Gold went to Gose in 4:04.13, with Quadarella (4:04.77) second and Ajna Kesely of Hungary (4:08.00) third.

Roma 2022 has witnessed some of the all-time great relay performances and the final night would deliver another treat – at least for the neutral. Italian fans were cheering as they led after the opening backstroke and breaststroke legs – helped by their 100m champions Margherita Panziera and Benedetta Pilato – but then France and Sweden began their comeback charge.  The French led heading into the final leg, but Sweden had a certain Sarah Sjöström going on freestyle leg and in truth gold was only going to go one nation. The Swede secured her third gold of the event - and a record-extending 28th European championship medal – as her team finished in 3:55.55 seconds. France (3:56.36) took silver and a brilliant sprint from Marrit Steenbergen helped the Netherlands (3:57.01) claim bronze. It was the Dutch woman’s sixth medal of Roma 2022 and completed her set of colours after four golds and a silver.

After their women’s team were denied gold it was down to the Italian men to ensure a ‘fairy-tale’ perfect finish to the Roma 2022 Championships for the hosts.  The relay line-up, which boasted the 100m backstroke champion Thomas Ceccon, the 100m breaststroke gold medallist Nicolo’ Martinenghi, as well as world short course champions Matteo Rivolta and Alessandro Miressi, where in truth a class apart.  They extended their lead after each leg and came home in a new championship record time of 3:48.46. France (3:32.50) and Austria (3:33.28) held off a late British charge to secure the final two places on the podium.

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