Belgrade 2024: Apostolos Papastamos wins historic gold for Greece; Israel and Lithuania claim landmark titles

Published On: June 17, 2024

Credit to:  European Aquatics

Apostolos Papastamos won an historic gold medal as he became the first Greek swimmer to win the 400m individual medley at the European Aquatics Championships Belgrade 2024.

Israel and Lithuania also made history as they claimed their first European relay titles in the women’s and men’s 4x200m freestyle respectively at the Sports and Recreational Center Milan Gale Muškatirović.

Papastamos, the 2019 World and European Junior champion, went from third at the end of the butterfly leg to first after the backstroke in which he split 1:04.44 to lead Balasz Hollo of Hungary by 0.82secs at the halfway stage.

Papastamos extended his lead on the breaststroke to 2.61secs over Gabor Zombori and although the Hungarian pair ate into the deficit on the freestyle, the Greek won in a national record of 4:10.83.

Balasz was second in 4:11.51 with Zombori taking bronze in 4:11.70.

All three men were within the Olympic A cut of 4:12.50 although Zombori will have to wait until the qualification window closes on 23 June with David Verraszto attempting to make the cut at the Sette Colli meet in Rome at the weekend.

While Ioannis Drymonakos won silver at Eindhoven 2008 and bronze four years later in Debrecen, Papastamos is the first Greek swimmer to top the podium in the long medley.

Credit to: European Aquatics

With that the 23-year-old booked a place at his second Olympics in Paris, three years after making his debut in Tokyo.

“My last personal best was four years ago so it is very special for me,” he said.

“I did my best, it was a very good time, I made the Olympic A cut.

“So now we are looking forward to Paris and the Olympic Games and I hope the best for it.”

It was, he admitted a big relief to make the Olympic cut with less than a week to go before the window closes.

So too could he heave a sigh of relief after finally winning a place on a senior podium, five years after his junior success.

“It was very hard because I am trying over four years to make it so I have downs and ups and downs and ups so it was my time and it is very beautiful,” he said.

Hailing from the island of Crete, Papastamos said: “It is amazing to do it for Greece, for young swimmers in Greece so I hope to be an inspiration for all of them.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

It was a first senior individual medal for Hollo as he and Zombori continue Hungary’s fine tradition in the long medley.

Laszlo Cseh won a historic five straight titles between Madrid 2004 and Debrecen 2012 which were followed by a further three by Verraszto while four-time Olympic champion Tamas Darnyi won four European titles.

“I went after the time and I already made the Olympic cut in the morning and now I further bettered it by a full second, this is awesome,” said Hollo.

“I didn’t crash at the halfway mark as I had done in all my previous finals at majors, I kept going and came second. So Olympic qualification and a medal – this is brilliant, I’m almost crying.”

While Hollo can start to plan for Paris, it is a waiting game for his teammate.

“This is great to stand on the podium and achieving the Olympic qualification time together with Bazsi (nickname for Hollo),” said Zombori.

“Obviously, we are one lower on the podium compared to the heats (where they finished 1-2), but unlike the Greek guy, we killed ourselves to finish first and second among the four Hungarians (because of the two-per-nation rule where the two quickest progress to the next round).

“We haven’t got used to this, I never swam a time under 4:15 in the heats, now I had to come 4:13 in the morning and that took its toll. Still, we are happy with the cut and the medals.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Israel also made history by claiming a women’s relay title for the first time with victory in the 4x200m freestyle.

Led off by Anastasia Gorbenko – who set a national 200 free record of 1:56.74 – the quartet led throughout to take the title in 7:51.83, slicing 7.19secs from the Israeli standard of 7:59.02 set at the 2023 World Championships in Fukuoka.

Hungary were second in 7:52.92 with Turkey pipping Germany by 0.09 as Zehra Duru Bilgin guided them into the wall in 8:01.58.

Gorbenko – who has rewritten the Israeli record books of late – said: “We knew we had a chance for the medal and in our dreams we thought we could take the gold if each of us comes up with her best. And exactly this happened, we did the best we could, and we are really happy now.”

Minna Abraham – who led off the Hungarian team – said: “For us, this is a golden moment, with this silver medal in hand.

“We’ve never swum 7:52 together, so this is a fantastic achievement from this team.

“I’m really proud of the girls, everyone gave her absolute best, three of us had an individual event in the session, so this is a great result.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Lithuania also won their first European relay gold when the men’s squad took 4x200m  freestyle gold.

Danys Rapsys took over with Lithuania in fourth before a 1:44.90 split propelled the squad to first in 7:08.04.

Hungary were second in 7:09.59 with Greece picking up their second medal of the night with bronze in 7:09.73.

Rapsys said: “The gold turns everything gold and makes you happy and forget the bad times.

“Though the splits weren’t the ones I wanted to see but all in all, it was a great team effort and most of the things went according to our plans.”

Hubert Kos nodded to Rapsys and his world-class anchor leg, saying: “I think we all did a fine job.

“We thought we could have a shot at the title but Danas (Rapsys) was too good.

“Over the third lap I felt I could get closer to him but then he launched the rocket…

“Since Balazs (Hollo) swam the 400m IM, I think we squeezed everything out of this relay.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Melvin Imoudu of Germany booked lane four for the men’s 100m breaststroke final in 59.28.

Berkay Omer Ogretir will be alongside him after going 59.54 with Lucas Matzerath making it two Germans in the top three in 59.71.

Barbora Seemanova was the only woman inside 54secs as she went 53.95 to head the women’s 100 free semis.

It was 0.27 outside her Czechia record of 53.68 set at the European Championships in Budapest in 2021.

Nikolett Padar (54.17) will be in lane five while Barbora Janickova made it two Czechia women in the top three in 54.32.

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