Published On: May 13, 2024

Credit to: Serbian Swimming Federation

By Nick Hope
Aquatics correspondent

British champion John Wood is among those eagerly anticipating the 2024 European Aquatics Masters Championships in Belgrade, with the swimmer keen to sample both competition and culture in Serbia.

The 37-year-old, who swims for Bristol Henleaze in the UK, claimed three gold medals – in in lifetime personal bests – at Madeira 2023, the inaugural European Masters Short Course Swimming Championships.

He will be seeking further success in Serbia, this time in the 50m long course pool. “I’m really looking forward to Belgrade ’24 because Serbia is very much on my list of places to visit and explore,” Wood tells European Aquatics.


Credit to: Serbian Swimming Federation

After Ponti set a European 100m fly record of 48.47 en-route to gold at the continental short-course championships in Otopeni, Romania, in December, he described it as “redemption” for the 2023 World Championships.

It was one of three titles for Ponti who claimed an unprecedented butterfly clean sweep while also winning silver in the 100m individual medley.

It was in stark contrast to five months earlier in Fukuoka where Ponti finished seventh in the 100 fly, in which he is the Olympic bronze medallist, while he didn’t make the 50 or 200 fly finals.

Speaking to European Aquatics from his Lanzarote training camp, Ponti explained that a combination of factors had seen him fall short of the performance level that had propelled him to the Olympic podium.

From April 2023, he spent long spells away from home while also studying for university exams in physiotherapy.

For the first time he felt the weight of media pressure with expectation heightened because of the absence of Caeleb Dressel and Kristof Milak, the Olympic gold and silver medallists.

Physically he felt in great shape at the training camp in Fuji City but he realised they’d started reducing his training load too soon.

He said: “Many factors didn’t work out and one of them is that we started tapering way too early so I arrived in Fukuoka and I was already going down.

“I think the peak was in Fuji at the pre-camp and not in Fukuoka.

“By the time I had arrived in Fukuoka and by the time I had to compete I just couldn’t wait to be done because it had been such a long season, the past month had been quite exhausting.

“Mentally I needed that break.”

The 22-year-old added: “It was for sure kind of a favour: I could learn from it a lot. Of course, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose: the thing is you learn from it and understand what you can do better.”

When he resumed the new season in September, Ponti sat down with his coaches Massimo Meloni and Andrea Mercuri at the National Training Centre in Tenero and analysed and evaluated what could be improved.

He returned to action at the Budapest leg of the World Cup in October before arriving at the European Short-Course Championships.

“The goal coming into Otopeni was to win medals, win a gold medal hopefully,” he said.

“There was Maxime Grousset, Alberto Razzetti, Szebasztián Szabó….so it wasn’t easy but I knew I could go for it and I was happy to show what I can do and do what I can do.

“I think I can still improve some things but it was amazing, I think it was close to a perfect meet for me. “It’s simply amazing to be able to write a little page of swimming history.”


Credit to: Serbian Swimming Federation

On to March 2024 and Ponti served notice of his form at the Finale Giant Open in Paris where he clinched the fly treble.

The following month he enjoyed a stunning Swiss National Championships with national records of 22.65 and 50.16 in the 50 and 100 fly respectively to go sixth in the all-time rankings in both events. He also went within 0.39 of his Swiss 200 fly record in 1:54.59 to go into the 2024 world top five.

He said: “Being able to drop 0.6 from my 100 fly PB after almost three years, it was really so nice. “I have been training for something and I can see that it is paying off: I just need to be I think really mentally relaxed and everything got to go well and this year everything is going well.”

Ponti will compete at the Monaco leg of the Mare Nostrum before heading to Belgrade, Serbia, for the European Aquatics Championships where the pool programme runs from 17-23 June.

It will be his fourth long-course Europeans following Glasgow 2018, Budapest 2020 and Roma 2022, where he won 100m silver behind Milak.

That was especially satisfying given he’d tested positive for Covid-19 on his return from the World Championships in Budapest in June.

Out of the water for 10 days, his breathing was so bad that after three weeks he went to see a pulmonologist – a lung specialist – who diagnosed bronchial asthma.

“So until the last moment I didn’t know if I was going to race in Rome or not, and being able after that come to Rome and win a silver medal was amazing.”


Ponti became the first Swiss swimmer to win the European Aquatics accolade in any aquatics discipline when he was voted best male swimmer of 2023 in March.

He finished ahead of Leon Marchand and Daniel Wiffen and Ponti recognised the prestige of the award given the quality of his fellow nominees.

“That was nice! It’s an honour,” he said.

“I knew that the guys that were not nominated as well, they all did amazing things last year, especially at Worlds or so.

“But being able to win the prize it was an honour, I am happy.”