Belgrade a key landmark on the road from junior to senior success

Credit to: World Aquatics

For many young swimmers, the European Junior Championships represent a milestone on their journey to success in senior international waters.

Kristof Milak, Tom Dean, Nicolo Martinenghi and Thomas Ceccon all graced the continental podium before going on to taste Olympic, World and European success.

A fortnight after becoming double world champion at Budapest 2022, David Popovici won four golds at the junior showcase in Otopeni before going on to set a then 100m freestyle world record of 46.86 among two golds at the European Championships.

Ranomi Kromowidjojo and Mireia Belmonte were medallists in 2006 before going on to reach the Olympic podium with Marrit Steenbergen and Fran Halsall also enjoying junior success.

Belgrade has hosted the European Junior Championships on three occasions in 2008, 2011 and 2023.

Ahead of the 2024 European Championships, European Aquatics takes a look at how those who tasted junior success in the Serbian capital fared in senior international waters.

BELGRADE 2008

Credit to: World Aquatics

Sharon van Rouwendaal was 14 when she won four medals including 1500m freestyle gold in a Dutch senior record plus silvers in the 200, 400 and 800m freestyle.

Two years later, the teenager was on the senior podium, winning 100 and 200m backstroke silver at the 2010 European Short-Course Championships in Eindhoven.

Van Rouwendaal claimed her first global senior medal at the 2011 World Championships with bronze in the 200m backstroke in a Dutch record that stands today.

Since then, she has won Olympic, world and European open water titles and will be seeking her third straight podium finish at the Paris Games.

Pál Joensen swept the boys’ 400, 800 and 1500m freestyle events and two years later reached the senior podium at the 2010 European Championships, winning 1500 free silver in Budapest.

Joensen made history at the 2012 World Short-Course Championships when he became the first swimmer from the Faroe Islands to win a World medal, taking bronze in the 1500m.

Chris Walker-Hebborn won the 100-200m backstroke double and led off the winning British boys’ medley relay quartet.

He would go on to win World, European and Commonwealth titles as well as Olympic silver in the men’s medley relay at Rio 2016.

BELGRADE 2011

Credit to: World Aquatics

The 2011 edition saw Velimir Stjepanović win gold in the 100m freestyle and 100m butterfly in front of a home crowd at the Sports and Recreation Center Tašmajdan.

Since then, the Serbian has competed at three Olympics and won three European titles in the long and short-course pools.

Gregorio Paltrinieri first tasted international success as a 16-year-old in Belgrade, with gold in the 1500 free and bronze in the 800.

Less than a year later, the Italian won the European title in Debrecen, Hungary, and went on to finish fifth at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

Paltrinieri has gone on to become one of the greats of distance swimming in the pool and open water, with Olympic, World and European titles.

The 29-year-old is the fourth-fastest man in history over 1500m freestyle and the European record-holder in 14:32.80.

His teammate Gabriele Detti won silvers in the 400, 800 and 1500m freestyle in Belgrade and also graced the Olympic podium with double bronze in Rio as well as clinching World and European titles.

Siobhan O’Connor won the girls’ individual medley double in 2011, weeks before making her senior Great Britain debut at the World Championships in Shanghai aged 15.

She became Team GB’s youngest swimmer at the Olympics in London the following year.

Four years later, O’Connor became only the third woman to break the 2:07 barrier in the 200IM when she stopped the clock at 2:06.88 for silver at Rio 2016 behind Katinka Hosszu.

BELGRADE 2023

Credit to: European Aquatics

Medallists at last year’s European Junior Championships have already featured on senior podiums.

Lana Pudar swept the butterfly events in Serbia, a year after winning 200m gold and bronze over 100m at the European Championships in Rome.

She went on to win bronze in the longer distance at Otopeni 2023 before matching that finish at the 2024 World Championships in Doha.

Now she has her sights set on claiming the first Olympic medal for Bosnia-Herzegovina in any sport at Paris 2024.

Breaststroke specialist Eneli Jefimova won two golds and a silver at Belgrade 2023.

She went on to claim Estonia’s first European title in the pool with an emotional 100m breaststroke gold at Otopeni 2023, also taking silver over 50m.