Belgrade 2024: Bulgaria and Sweden share men’s 200m breaststroke title while Andrej Barna propels Serbia to a raucous relay gold

Credit to: European Aquatics

Lyubomir Epitropov came from third at the final turn to dead-heat with Erik Persson as the pair shared the men’s 200m breaststroke title at the European Aquatics Championships Belgrade 2024.

The evening finished at the Sports and Recreational Center Milan Gale Muškatirović with the crowd on its feet and a loud rendition of the Serbian national anthem following victory in the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay, largely thanks to Andrej Barna’s 46.86 anchor leg.

Persson went ahead on the second 50m and still led at the final turn with Iceland’s Anton McKee and Epitropov of Bulgaria trailing.

However, Epitropov came back with the fastest final 50m of the field in 33.05secs to eat into the deficit with each stroke and draw level with the Swede at the touch to share gold in 2:09.45.

Jan Kalusowski of Poland moved up to third on the final length in 2:10.20.

Epitropov, who trains at the University of Tennessee, spoke after hearing the Bulgarian national anthem on the podium.

Credit to: European Aquatics

“Honestly, it feels surreal,” he told European Aquatics. “That was always one of my dreams hearing the national anthem. It didn’t matter which meet – the Europeans, Worlds, Olympics, that’s one of my dreams completed now.

“I don’t think I’ve processed it yet but I am really happy to also share it with Erik.

“He is such a good breaststroker so it’s a real honour for me to share the podium with him.”

It was Persson’s first international title following silver at the 2022 World Championships and bronze at the 2020 European Aquatics Championships.

He said: “It means a lot, the first time winning a title feels so good.

“I had a good feeling after the semi-finals so I wanted to be out quite fast and see how long I could hold on, so I’m quite happy with that. 

“It feels great (to become Sweden’s latest aquatics champion), we have a lot of champions from the past so it’s great to be there.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

The final event of the evening – the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay – featured twists, turns and a raucous home crowd in the Serbian capital.

David Popovici led off the Romanian quartet in 47.22 to hand over in first place ahead of Serbia and Poland.

The host country moved into the lead by the halfway stage with Romania second and Croatia third.

The lead traded hands again on the next leg with Poland, Greece and Croatia occupying the medal positions at the final changeover.

Serbia was back in fifth but Barna came roaring back to propel them to gold in 3:12.90 ahead of Poland (3:13.25) and Greece (3:13.73).

Barna added relay gold to his individual 100 free bronze and said: “Man, winning a medal in an individual event is great, but with a relay, and a gold, and at home!

“Nothing comes close to it. We are overjoyed, over the moon.

“When I saw Velimir (Stjepanovic) going almost all the way with Popovici, I knew this was going to be our day.

“I was on fire; I swam like hell and this split I did just really shows how badly I wanted this. This is a big day for us!”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Kristof Milak came through in the final couple of metres to get the touch and claim his third straight 100m butterfly title.

A second 50m of 27.17secs propelled Milak into the wall to get the touch in 50.82secs, 0.14 ahead of Hubert Kos who touched in 50.96 as Hungary enjoyed a 1-2.

Jakub Majerski of Poland replicated his bronze of Roma 2022 in 50.98.

Kos said: “It’s obviously great. It was a really, really fast heat so to get the silver medal next to Milak is obviously a huge thing in itself.

“To get a time again that is under 51 is really a great thing.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Barbora Seemanova led from start to finish to add the 200m freestyle title to her 100m gold in 1:55.37.

“It was an excellent race, technique-wise too,” said the Czechia athlete.

“I had a plan for my last race before the Olympics and I can say I did everything I wanted so I’m satisfied.”

Minna Abraham of Hungary not only claimed silver in 1:57.22 but also made the qualification time for Paris 2024 next month.

“In the call room I’ve been nervous,” she said. “I knew that it’s going to be a European final but for me the Olympic standard was more important.

“And now here I am, with my first individual medal and an A cut that I achieved in the very last moment. I went through a lot in the past two weeks, I had illness, and the past two years, when I had highs and then lows but I’m really grateful for everyone who trusted me.”

Nicole Maier of Germany took bronze in 1:57.36.

Credit to: European Aquatics

Danielle Hill got the touch to win the women’s 50m backstroke and claim Ireland’s first European title since Michelle Smith in 1997.

Sycerika McMahon was the last Irishwoman to reach the continental podium when she won 50m breaststroke silver at Debrecen 2012.

Hill qualified last month for her second Olympic in Paris, which was extra special given she had considered her future in the sport last summer.

Less than a month on, Hill was crowned continental champion in 27.73 and told European Aquatics she was feeling “a whole lot of emotion.”

She added: “I can’t really sum it up but I know how hard it was to start this season.

“To be standing here as a European champion five weeks out from the Olympic Games is just incredible.

“And I couldn’t be prouder to represent Ireland.”

Theodora Drakou took silver in 27.87 as she matched her Greek record from the 2023 World Championships with Poland’s Adela Piskorska taking bronze in 28.00.

Credit to: European Aquatics

Popovici booked lane four for the final of the 200m freestyle as he seeks the defend the title he won at Roma 2022.

The 19-year-old became the third-fastest man in history, and the fastest in a textile suit, when he posted a time of 1:42.97 at the Foro Italico.

The Romanian clocked 1:46.15 and will be joined in the adjacent lane by Lithuanian Danys Rapsys (1:46.44).

Dimitrios Markos (1:46.46) and Kamil Sieradzki (1:46.63) are the other men to have posted in the 1:46 range.

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