For Arno Kamminga, the 2019 European Short Course Swimming Championships made him realise he had the potential to succeed on the international stage.
The Netherlands swimmer won the 100m and 200m breaststroke, as well as 50m bronze – all in national record time – as he left the likes of Ilya Shymanovich, Fabio Scozzoli, Erik Persson and Marco Koch trailing in his wake.
They were the first individual medals of his career and he added a further silver in the 4x50m mixed medley relay, two years after gold in Copenhagen.
Kamminga told European Aquatics: “It showed me what my possibilities were and it definitely opened my eyes – like alright I am capable of winning and I am capable of beating all those amazing guys.
“I was really surprised. It was my second European short course – 2017 was my first where I came fourth in the 200, sixth in the 100, the 50 I didn’t even final.
“Then we won the mixed relay.
“Two years later, I came back with two golds and a bronze individually, and a silver in the relay, which was such a big step-up.
“I was swimming a lot of long-course PBs leading into that, so I knew I was on the right track, but it’s something else doing it at a competition when the pressure is high.
“What else I recall is that I loved every second of it.”
Since then, Kamminga – coached by Mark Faber at the Amsterdam High Performance Centre – has graced Olympic, World and European podiums in long and short-course pools.
In December 2020, he posted a time of 2:06.85 in Rotterdam to become the fourth man inside 2:07 in the 200m long-course breaststroke.
Come May 2021 and Kamminga joined Adam Peaty as the only men to break through the 58-sec barrier in the 100m in 57.90.
A little over two months later, he won double silver at the delayed 2020 Olympics in Tokyo before collecting more silverware at the European and World Short Course Championships.
However, 2022 brought with it illness, physical exhaustion and mental fatigue, a spiral that started on the first day of the World Championships in Budapest.
He considered pulling out of the 100m breaststroke final before going on to win silver but then withdrew from the 200.
There were further mixed medley relay medals in Budapest and at the European Championships in Rome but exhaustion had taken its toll.
Up until Christmas he trained five hours a week rather than the usual 30-plus and he arrived at the Worlds in Fukuoka in uncharted waters without a winter training block.
However, a strong second 50 saw him come from fifth at halfway in the 100 to claim silver in an historic three-way tie with Nicolo Martinenghi and Nic Fink behind champion Qin Haiyang.
Kamminga had mixed emotions, saying: “Obviously proud and happy because I got the silver but also kind of relieved after such a horrible year to still make a medal at the worlds.
“Up to a couple of years ago I was only dreaming about it but now I do it after I come back from a burnout and I’m not even fit at the level I want to be.
“To do it in a three-way split was really surreal but also a lot of fun, which I think only made it more special.”
Kamminga will compete at the Rotterdam Qualification Meet before heading on to Otopeni.
There he’ll contest the 100 and 200m where he’ll face training partner Caspar Corbeau, Persson – 200 silver medallist behind Kamminga in 2019 – and Andrius Sidlauskas, European 100m bronze medallist.
There’ll also be another reunion with Martinenghi, with whom he’s shared Olympic, World and European podiums.
Kamminga said: “I have a lot of respect for my competitors because they do a lot of things really good because otherwise they wouldn’t be at that level.
“So, with Nicolo, it’s why I like him so much because I see him doing so many good things.
“He’s also a really great guy and obviously when we stand on the blocks it’s game on and there’s maybe no friendship at all but the moment we touch it changes that.”
Keep across European Aquatics’ social media platforms and website for key updates leading into Otopeni 2023 – 5-10 December.