GLASGOW (Reuters) – Fantine Lesaffre made a remarkable breakthrough to smash the French 400 metres individual medley record twice in day and become the first swimming champion of the new multi-sports European Championships on Friday.
Ukrainian Mykhaylo Romanchuk also underlined his status as one of the new stars of men’s aquatics when he won his first major senior title in the 400 metres freestyle at the Tollcross International Centre.
This was the 34th edition of the European swimming championships but the first time they had been included in the new multi-sport format with home favourite Adam Peaty also ensuring they enjoyed a spectacular launch.
Britain’s Olympic champion produced two remarkable swims in the 100 metres breaststroke to qualify as fastest by far for Saturday’s final.
If that was no great surprise, the quality of 23-year-old Lesaffre’s all-round victory certainly was. An athlete who’s previously succumbed to stress, the Frenchwoman even shocked herself by knocking nearly five seconds off her personal best over the day.
Taking advantage of Olympic champion Katinka Hosszu’s decision to give the longer medley a miss, Lesaffre dominated the morning preliminaries, clocking a new French national mark of 4 minutes 36.17, destroying her own personal best of 4:38.88.
In the final, she produced strong breaststroke and freestyle legs to lower that mark to 4:34.17, the fastest in the world this year, easing away from Italy’s Ilaria Cusinato (4:35.05) and Britain’s Hannah Miley (4:35.34).
“It has been hard for me because I have had good seasons but I’ve not made it in international competitions because I felt the stress,” said a delighted Lesaffre. “Now I have shown that I can represent France well.”
The 21-year-old Romanchuk goes from strength to strength, now adding his first major senior title to the silver medal he won at his best event, the 1,500 metres, in last year’s world championships.
After powering away from the field in startling fashion from the start to win in 3min 45.18sec, Romanchuk, who had previously won at 400m freestyle at both the Youth Olympics and last year’s World Student Games, was already turning his thoughts to his next trick.
“Hopefully, it will not be the last gold in this competition. I’m more motivated now,” he said. “Tomorrow, I’m in the heats of my best event, the 1,500 metres.”
Peaty, out to restore his aura of breaststroke invincibility after his first loss in four years over 50 metres at the Commonwealth Games, clocked the seventh fastest time ever in the morning (57.89sec) before recording 58.04 in the evening.
“I think I was trying too much (in the semi-final),” said Peaty. “Tomorrow for the final, I’ll bring my A game. I’ve got a few more steps to take.”
The French women capped a fine day with Marie Wattel, Charlotte Bonnet, Margaux Fabre and Beryl Gastaldello winning the 4 × 100 metres freestyle relay while the Russian quartet of Evgeny Rylov, Danila Izotov, Vladimir Morozov and Kliment Kolesnikov won the equivalent men’s event.
(Reporting by Ian Chadband, editing by Pritha Sarkar)