Swimming-Israeli swimmer booed by crowd in sour finish to World Championships


By Ian Ransom

DOHA, Feb 18 (Reuters) - An Israeli medallist was booed by the crowd in a sour finish to the Doha World Championships on Sunday, taking the gloss off some stunning achievements in the pool highlighted by Sarah Sjostrom's third consecutive 50 metres freestyle world title.

Anastasia Gorbenko took silver in the women's 400m individual medley but her celebrations were spoiled as a chorus of boos rained down from the terraces, drowning out her post-race interview by the floor presenter.

The jeers continued as Gorbenko left the Aspire Dome pool, and she was booed again at the medals ceremony though there was also applause. Briton Freya Constance Colbert won the race.

The presence of Israeli swimmers at the championships has drawn criticism from some Qatari media outlets and pro-Palestine groups amid Israel's military campaign in Gaza in response to Hamas's Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.

Gorbenko said she had been booed multiple times during the week and it had affected her emotionally. But she was defiant that she deserved her moment on the podium.

"I'm here to represent my country... And I'm doing this with the Israeli flag and I'm proud of that. And whoever doesn't like it, it's just not my problem," the 20-year-old told reporters.

Swimming's global governing body World Aquatics declined to comment.

Politics infused the event in Doha where Belarusian swimmers competed as neutrals due to restrictions imposed on their athletes, and Russia's, stemming from Russia's invasion of Ukraine -- which Moscow called a "special military operation".

Russia's swimming federation called the restrictions unacceptable and none of the country's swimmers competed.

The boycott further weakened the competition, with Doha snubbed by a number of top swimmers due to its unusual scheduling in the lead-up to the Paris Olympics in July and August.

Swede Sjostrom, however, gave the event a much-needed boost.

The world record holder showed she will be the woman to beat for the Olympic 50m freestyle gold by rocketing to the title with a blazing time of 23.69, the fourth fastest in history.

"That was amazing. I'm super happy that I was able to swim so fast... I came here with confidence that I did a really good time yesterday," said Sjostrom, who beat American silver medal winner Kate Douglass by more than two-tenths of a second.

"So it gives me a lot of confidence coming up to Paris."


Ireland hailed a new distance champion in Daniel Wiffen, who obliterated the field for the 1,500m freestyle gold, days after winning the country's first world title in the 800m.

Wiffen posted a time of 14:34.07, finishing more than 10 seconds clear of German runner-up Florian Wellbrock.

He said he was eyeing Sun Yang's world record of 14:31.02.

"I’ve been planning to get it at some point but it’s unreal to get that time in February," said Wiffen, who set the 800m short course world record in December.

New Zealand celebrated a second gold medal of a big meeting for the nation when Lewis Clareburt took the 400m individual medley title in a time of 4:09.72, edging Briton Max Litchfield into silver.

A year and a half after getting kicked out of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham over medication misuse, Australia's Isaac Cooper won his first world title in the non-Olympic men's 50m backstroke.

With a time of 24.13 seconds, Cooper edged American defending champion Hunter Armstrong into silver.

World record holder Ruta Meilutyte successfully defended her non-Olympic 50m breaststroke title, rebounding from her surprisingly poor 100m defence when she missed the final.

Though the medals table did not necessarily reflect the strength of nations due to the depleted field, the United States secured top spot with an eighth gold and 20 medals in total.

The U.S. men claimed the 4x100 medley relay title over the Netherlands to secure their eighth gold, while second-placed China finished with seven golds from 11 medals.

Australia, third-placed with three titles, finished off strongly with gold in the women's 4x100m medley relay.

"Everyone in the team did their job and that's why we're number one," said Australia's Shayna Jack, who swam the freestyle leg.

"We definitely are in a great position (for Paris)."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Doha; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Clare Fallon)

((ian.ransom@thomsonreuters.com; Follow me on Twitter https://twitter.com/MyRansomNotes; +61 3 9286 1447;))

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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