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The 5th FINA World Championships – Madrid, 1986

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Once again, the Old Continent welcomed the best of aquatics in 1986 in Madrid. The East German women dominated the swimming events, Hungarian legend Tamás Darnyi collected two gold medals among the men. FINA included the women’s water polo tournament for the first time in the World Championships’ programme. Diving super star, Greg Louganis defended his two titles and Canadian synchronised swimmers reached glory. It all happened in Madrid, in 1986.

A total of 1119 athletes of the aquatic disciplines competed in 41 sessions in the Spanish capital in 1986 at the 5th FINA World Championships.

In swimming, the 50 m freestyle events and the women’s 4×200 m freestyle relay were contested for the first time, so was the water polo tournament for women, one year after the first European Championships in Oslo.

The main venue of these World Championships was the M86-Center, opened in May of 1986, constructed specifically for the FINA Event. This great complex itself soon won a gold medal as the best facility for aquatic sports (awarded by the National Pool, Washington, Unites States), the European Aquatics Championships were held here 18 years later, in 2004.

Madrid was the last World Championships to see the overwhelming East German domination in women’s swimming: the team collected 14 gold, 12 silver and 4 bronze medals, reaching the first place on the medal table, while the United States came in second with 9 gold, 10 silver and 13 bronze medals, and Canada – thanks to the great synchronised swimmers – reached the third position in the rankings (with four gold, two silver and two bronze medals).

The Hungarian delegation finished the World Championships with 3 gold medals, all of them won in swimming.


Title defender Greg Louganis did not disappoint the crowds, he triumphed in both his events. The two Chinese silver medalists were not able to approach his scores (3m: 750.06-692.28, 10 m: 668.58-624.33), while the bronze went to another Chinese (3m) and another American (10m) diver.

With these two golds Louganis reached his 4th and 5th world titles, just to become a double Olympic champion two years later at the Seoul Games.

Among the women China reached double success: on 3m Gao Min won the gold (later she became an Olympic Champion in 1988 and 1992) while on 10m Chen Lin stood on the top of the Madrid podium.

Synchronised swimming

It was not the first time in the history of the FINA World Championships that Canadian and American athletes fought for the titles in all three synchro events. Finally, it was Canada who won all three gold medals. Caroly Waldo won in solo, in duet (woth Michelle Cameron) and in the team’s competition, she was the first Canadian woman winning two Olympic gold medals two years later in Seoul. 

The silver medal went to Sarah Josephson (from the Unites States) in solo and in duet (with her twin sister, Karen) while French Muriel Hermine collected the solo bronze and Japan came in third in the team event. 

Water polo

Among the men, Yugoslavia gained its first world title following a spectacular and memorable final against Italy. This final is one of the longest and most impressive games in the history of water polo with four (!) extra time periods. (The final result: Yugoslavia – Italy: 12-11 (1-2, 0-2, 4-2, 2-1, and ET: 1-0, 1-2, 0-0, 0-0, 0-1, 1-0, 0-1, 2-0)

Before, Yugoslavia beat the Soviet Union (8-7), while Italy triumphed by one goal over the United States in the semi-finals. (Surprisingly, Hungary was beaten twice during the group stage thus did not reach the quarter-finals.)

Short summary of the final:

Members of the Yugoslavian team: Dragan Andric, Perica Bukic, Veselin Djuho, Milorad Krivokapic, Deni Lusic, Igor Milanovic, Tomislav Paskvalin, Zoran Petrovic, Andrija Popovic, Dubravko Simenc, Aleksander Sostar, Ante Vasovic, Mirko Vicevic.

FINA included women in the World Championships’ water polo competition programme for the first time in 1986: nine teams divided into two groups entered the competition in Madrid. Finally, Australia won the first gold medal, while silver went to Netherlands and the Unites States collected the bronze.


Among women, swimmers from East Germany gained 13 titles from the 16 events, only Tamara Costache from Romania (50 m freestyle), American Betsy Michell (100 m backstroke) and Mary T. Heagher (200 m butterfly) were able to clinch golds in Madrid besides them.

One gold from the East German team (4x100 m freestyle relay):

The men’s field was more colorful, East Germany only won the 4x200 m freestyle relay event, while West Germany excelling its neighbour, winner of 1500 m freestyle, Rainer Henkel won the 400 m freestyle final as well:

Canadian Victor Davis won the 100 m breaststroke final, he was the World Champion over 200 m four years before. In Madrid, he was only the second fastest swimmer over the longer breaststroke distance, József Szabó from Hungary beat him in the 20m final, winning one out of the three Hungarian gold medals; the other two went to Tamás Darnyi (200 and 400 m individual medley).

American Matt Biondi was another star in Madrid, he triumphed in the 100 m freestyle and was member of the winning American team in the 4x100 freestyle and medley relays. Biondi even collected one silver (100 m butterfly) and three bronze medals (50 and 200 m freestyle and 4x200 freestyle relay) in the Spanish capital. Two years later in Seoul he collected an astonishing 5 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze medals and all in all he has 11 Olympic medals.

In Madrid, Igor Polyansky from the Soviet Union also made an impressive performance with 2 golds (100 and 200 m backstroke). In total, 16 nations collected at least one medal in the swimming events of the 5th FINA World Championships in 1986.