When I booked my flight to Budapest for the World Masters Championships, I knew I was in for one of the most exciting weeks of my life. The 2017 FINA Masters Worlds was an incredible experience and by far the largest swimming championships I’ve ever competed at. It was also a thrill to meet members of the MySwimPro community from around the world in person in Budapest.

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the U.S. Olympic Swim Team Trials in Omaha, Nebraska. I’ve also attended multiple U.S. Masters Nationals including the Long Course Championships earlier this month where I was a triple Gold Medalist. Nothing can compare to being an athlete at a FINA sanctioned international event. I was luckily joined by over 300 athletes from the United States!

FINA World Masters Championships

The FINA World Masters Championships (or “Masters Worlds”) is an international Aquatics championships for adults aged 25 and older. The championships is held biennially, with competition in all five of FINA’s disciplines: Swimming, Diving, Water polo, Open water and Synchro. Starting in 2015, the event is now held jointly with the FINA World Aquatics Championships.

Eva Szanto, CEO of the organizing committee shared some stats about the Masters events: 9,283 athletes arrived to Budapest, including 321 divers, 521 synchro swimmers, 6,524 swimmers, 1,239 open water entrants, and 120 water polo teams. This was the largest ever participation in the history of FINA and for good reason.

The Venue(s)

Budapest’s newly constructed wonder, the Duna Aréna was one of two venues used throughout the competition to handle nearly 10,000 athletes across nearly two weeks of competition. The complex sits along the Danube River and is absolutely magnificent. Two 50m competition pools were run simultaneously while housing a 25m diving well for warmups along with an additional outdoor 50m swimming pool for warmups.

When you walk on the deck of the Duna ‘A’ pool, it literally takes your breath away with a stadium-style seating designed for over 13,000 spectators. On the busiest day in the Duna Aréna 4,200 athletes took the starting blocks in the two competition pools, swimming in 1,050 relays.

Alfréd Hajós National Swimming Stadium

The other venue was equally impressive. This complex featured two 50m competition pools (both outdoor), a 30m outdoor warmup pool and an additional 25m pool. The venue sits on the edge of Margaret Island alongside the Danube River approximately 3km away from the Duna Aréna. It was the home of the European Aquatics Championships in 2006 and 2010 and the 2014 Men’s European Water Polo Championship and 2014 Women’s European Water Polo Championship competitions.

The Competition

Racers came from around the world to compete for World Championship medals in what I consider stacked fields in every single stroke style, age-group and distance. There were at times hundreds of heats per event (I was in heat #172 of the 50m Freestyle). I raced in 5 individual events: 50m, 100m, 200m Breaststroke, 50m Freestyle, 50m Butterfly.

While I would have liked to raced faster times, I still had an unforgettable experience stepping on the blocks after going through the formal ready room and walk-out procedure used at all FINA international competitions.

I would have never thought in a million years that I’d have the opportunity to walk out to Lane 4 in an international field and see MY country’s flag by MY name on the jumbotron. That’s an amazing experience. Below is a photo with U.S. Masters Swimming head coach of the World Championships Team, Richard Garza.

While I placed 23rd in the 50m Breaststroke, the event’s winner Marek Botik from Slovakia broke the World Record! Seeing World and Championship Records fall is something special because you know how hard each swimmer worked to achieve that result. You can only cheer for your competitors when they accomplish such feats.

The Community

What makes Masters Swimming so special is the stories that come out of the community. I met swimmers who have competed in every single World Championships since the start over three decades ago. The FINA Masters Worlds is an amazing group of people with a very diverse set of backgrounds in aquatics. Below is a picture with members of team from Turkey!

Over the course of the 8 days of competition in the pool, I met multiple Olympic medalists in addition to swimmers who picked up swimming later on in life and Masters swimming was their first entrance to the sport! Below is a photo with my friend Rinaldo Sintjago racing for Puerto Rico.

The Host City

Budapest is the capital and by far the most populous city of Hungary and one of the largest cities in the European Union! It’s population of over 1.8 million makes it one of the most densely populated cities in Europe and it’s also recognized as one of the most beautiful cities as well.

Similar to other populous European cities, Budapest has an incredibly efficient public transportation system and all athletes competing in the Masters Championships had free access to move around the city.

Tourist Attractions

Over 15 million gallons of water bubble daily into Budapest’s 118 springs and boreholes. The city of spas offers an astounding array of baths, from the sparkling Gellert Baths to the vast 1913 neo-baroque Szechenyi Spa to Rudas Spa, a dramatic 16th-century Turkish pool with original Ottoman architecture. The “Queen of the Danube” is also steeped in history, culture and natural beauty.

On the final day of the championships, August 20th commemorates the foundation of the Hungarian state, it’s like Hungary’s 4th of July. Also called as St. Stephen’s Day, remembering Stephen I, the first king of Hungary and founder of the Kingdom of Hungary, who was canonized on August 20th, 1083 by Pope Gregory VII.

Festivities start in the morning with the raising of the Hungarian flag and continue on all day long, culminating in a spectacular fireworks display over the Danube.

Summary

The 2017 FINA Masters Worlds is an experience like no other. Thank you to Arena for hooking me up with swag for the trip! Hungary can be proud of hosting the best FINA World Masters Championships ever, stated FINA Bureau member and Masters Committee Liaison Dr. Mohamed Diop in his speech at the closing ceremony of the event.

While it can be a costly trip, it’s an unforgettable journey marked by the breathtaking views of the host city, sun tan lines of the warm-up pool and adrenaline behind the blocks. Many participants tour the neighboring cities and countries while on Holiday. After the championships, I visited Vienna and Prague.

The next World Championships will be in 2019 held in Gwangju, South Korea. The city has hosted the 2015 Summer Universiade aquatics events in the same venues. It looks to be an incredible event. Hope to see you there!

One thought on “What It’s Like To Race at the FINA World Masters Championships

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience! I am inspired to go out and swim some laps now…. those arenas are incredible. Budapest is a wonderful city and I’m glad to know your whole experience/trip was an amazing one.

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