As 2023 comes to a close, we select the five biggest talking points among European men’s competition this year.
The 400m individual medley world record of 4 minutes 03.84 seconds had stood to Michael Phelps since Beijing 2008.
Leon Marchand became the second-fastest man in history when he went 4:04.28 en-route to gold at the 2022 World Championships in Budapest.
And more was to come at the World Championships in Fukuoka where he sliced 1.34secs off Phelps’ time in 4:02.50 to eclipse the 28-time Olympic medallist’s last individual world record.
The Frenchman – coached by Bob Bowman who also guided Phelps throughout his career – said “That was insane.
“That was one of the most painful things I did. It was just amazing to do it here. This time is crazy. The best is yet to come.”
Marchand went on to win the 200IM in a European record of 1:54.82 and the 200m butterfly in 1:52.43, a new French standard.
The 21-year-old will be in the glare of the spotlight in the run-up to a home Games in Paris.
Given a scheduling conflict, Marchand will have to choose between the 200m butterfly and the 200m breaststroke in which he’s the third and fifth top-performer in history respectively.
It has been a record-breaking year for Daniel Wiffen.
The 22-year-old elevated himself among the distance greats with a time of 14:34.91 in the 1500m freestyle at the Swim Open Stockholm in April.
Come Fukuoka and the distance races were among the most keenly anticipated – and with good reason.
Up first was the 800 in which Wiffen was fourth, 0.52 off the podium in a European record of 7:39.19.
The 1500 was a thriller with Ahmed Hafnaoui rattling Sun Yang’s WR and Wiffen once more fourth in 14:43.01.
He returned to the water days later at the European U23 Championships in Dublin winning the 1500 free in a time that would have secured bronze in Fukuoka.
Wiffen – coached by Andi Manley at Loughborough – then brought his year to an end with a crescendo.
He became Ireland’s first European short-course champion in Otopeni before setting a WR of 7:20.46 in the 1500 free.
That sliced almost three seconds off Grant Hackett’s 2008 standard with Wiffen lowering the oldest world record in the books.
BRITISH 1-2 FINISHES
British men have made the top two steps of the 200 free podium their own since Tom Dean led home Duncan Scott at the Tokyo Olympics.
It was Matt Richards’ turn in Fukuoka, winning the world title ahead of Dean before the pair joined forces with Scott and James Guy to add the world 4×200 freestyle relay title to their Olympic crown.
Next stop Otopeni and Richards became the 200 free champion as he once more headed a British 1-2, with Guy this time claiming silver.
Such is the strength in depth of the men’s 200m freestyle in Britain that the Olympic trials will inevitably feature a high-profile elimination given there are just two individual spots available.
FRANCE AHEAD OF A HOME GAMES
France finished fifth in the overall medal table in Fukuoka with six medals in the pool and one apiece in diving and high diving.
But they were the top European team in the pool in fourth behind China, Australia and the USA.
Marchand won treble gold and was named Male Swimmer of the Championships with Maxime Grousset also visiting the top of the podium in the 100m butterfly in 50.14, a new French record.
It was a first international individual title for Grousset who became the fifth-fastest man in history before bronze in the 100m freestyle and 50m butterfly.
There were some near-misses with Mewen Tomac (200m backstroke), the men’s 4x200m freestyle and 4x100m medley relays all fourth with Grousset splitting 49.27 on the fly leg in the latter.
Anastasia Kirpichnikova was also locked out by one place in the women’s 1500m freestyle, finishing 0.82 off the podium in a French record of 15:48.53.
They finished third at the year-ending European Short-Course Championships with seven golds among 23 medals – and that was without Marchand.
Tomac won his first senior medals as he claimed the 50/100 back double, leading a French 1-2 with Yohann Ndoye Brouard in the latter, while Grousset clinched 100 free gold,
Kirpichnikova won the 800 and 1500, Beryl Gastaldello the 100 free and Charlotte Bonnet the 100IM.
EUROPEAN PROWESS IN THE OPEN WATER
European swimmers ruled the men’s open water at the World Championships with Germany, Italy and Hungary claiming the six men’s medals between them.
Florian Wellbrock won the 5k ahead of Italian pair Gregorio Paltrinieri and Domenico Acerenza.
The Olympic champion also led home Kristof Rasovszky of Hungary in the 10k as the pair replicated their finishing positions in Tokyo with Wellbrock’s teammate Oliver Klemet taking bronze.
Italy then went on to claim the mixed relay ahead of Hungary and Australia.
Rasovszky was also crowned World Aquatics Open Water Swimming World Cup champion ahead of Marcello Guidi with Mario Sanzullo taking the European Aquatics equivalent.
Since marathon swimming was introduced at the Olympics in 2008, the Netherlands has won the men’s title on two occasions, in its inaugural year and in 2016.
Germany topped the podium in Tokyo and also won silver at London 2012, four years after bronze in Beijing.
At the last two Games, the men’s podiums were swept by European swimmers.