Franko Grgic 14:46.09 World Junior Record Makes Croatian Ace Fastest 16-Year-Old Over 1500m In History

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Franko Grgic of Croatia celebrates victory - Photo Courtesy: FINA and Budapest 2019

World Junior Championships (Franko Grgic 14:46.09)

Budapest, Day 6 Finals

Men’s 1500m freestyle

Franko Grgic has been tipped for the top as a potential world-record holder in Europe. On 14:46.09, a World junior record of magnitude and might, the promise of great things from the fastest 16-year-old 1500m freestyle swimmer in history will surely go global.

Grgic, who turned 16 on the last day of January this year, gave a hint of fine form with a 7:45 win over 800m earlier in the week for a world No9 slot in senior waters.

A 14:46 over 30 laps rocketed him to a new level: 6th in the world this year, Grgic leap-frogged over a Who’ Who of 1500 giants who were good at 16 and went on to claim world records, Olympic and World titles and stand on the biggest podiums.

Kieren Perkins, Australia

At 16, Kieren Perkins clocked 14:58.05; Grant Hackett – 15:03.67; Gregorio Paltrinieri – 15:04.90.

The fastest-ever time for a 16-year-old belongs to the since tainted Sun Yang, of China, at the 14:48.39 he clocked in heats at a home Olympic Games in Beijing back in 2008. When he tested positive for a heart booster added to the banned-substances list in 2014, Sun told Chinese media that he had been taking the substance for “several years” for a heart condition.

Hearts will be beating and fireworks set alight this night in Croatia after young Grgic took 2sec and more off the closet of his rivals by 400m, built up to a 4sec lead in 7:53 at 800 – faster than his career best solo 800m coming into the summer season – and by 1000m had the title in his grasp with a 6sec lead.

There was no stopping him and by the close of business, his 14:46.06 swept him inside the 14:51.55 World junior record of Australia’s Mack Horton in 20-14 and the championship standard the same swimmer set for victory at the global youth gathering in Dubai back in 2013.

In the lanes beside Grgic, they might have wondered why they were going a touch off their best pace. They weren’t. The silver went to Australian Thomas Neill in 14:59.19, the bronze to Russian Ilia Sibirtsev in 15:05.17.

  • Grgic’s splits: 56.52; 1:55.88; 2:55.57; 3:55.53; 4:54.84; 5:54.31; 6:53.66; 7:53.07; 8:52.49 ; 9:51.66; 10:50.93; 11:50.21; 12:49.43; 13:48.71; 14:46.09.

The time makes him 22nd fastest all-time. Here’s how it fits with the rest of the best in 2019:

1 14:36.54 Wellbrock, Florian, GER World champion
2 14:37.63 Romanchuk, Mykhailo, UKR
3 14:38.34 Paltrinieri, Gregorio, ITA Olympic champion
4 14:44.72 Aubry, David, FRA
5 14:45.35 Christiansen, Henrik, NOR
6 14:46.09 Grgic, Franko, CRO
7 14:46.51 Jervis, Daniel, GBR
8 14:47.75 Noergaard, Alexander Aslak, DEN
9 14:48.52 Micka, Jan, CZE
10 14:51.15 Finke, Robert, USA

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Photo Courtesy: Brian Goodell/ International Swimming Hall of Fame

Teenage Territory

It is far from unusual to have 16-17 and 18-year-old contenders muscling in on the big medals over 1500m. One of the, if not the, greatest 1500m Olympic podium battles was that between American 17-year-old Brian Goodell and Bobby Hackett and 18-year-old Australian Stephen Holland at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. The fight ended in that order: 15:02.40, 15:03.91 and 15:04.66 – astonishing speed 43 years ago.

Grgic’s Breakthrough Season

This has been a spectacular year of breakthrough for Grgic, who in March delivered a stunning 14:56.55 over 1500m at Croatian Team Championships in Rijeka on his way to a meet-record 15:04.75 victory at the Olympic Youth Games in Baku last month.

Progress from 15 to 16 years of age has included stepping up from 3:55 to 3:52 over 400m and from 8:05 to 7:53.75 over 800m by March, on his way to a 7:45 triumph this week in Budapest. Last 15, his best 1500m was a 15:21.51. Fast.

After that 14:56 back in March he told local media:

“I do not know what others expected and whether this was a surprise for them, but it is definitely no surprise to me because I was preparing for this. I broke my own record in 26 seconds, but I repeat, for me this is the expected result, because I have been preparing for this for a long time.”

He took the same approach tonight in Budapest: he had “expected that time” and is capable of a swim or around 14:40 but that goal was knocked by three weeks of full-on training earlier this summer because of a minor shoulder injury.

If back in March he was inside the the ‘A’ qualification standard for Tokyo 2020 on 14:56:55 (Duje Draganja is cited by Grgic’s Croatian club as the only other Croatian who ever had an Olympic time in the bag a year out from a Games), then today in Budapest he emerged as a potential contender for the Olympic podium.

His coach is Mati Ruzic at the Adriatic Club and after paying plaudits to the man setting the program, Grgic turned his gaze to Tokyo:

“The goal of every athlete is to be the best. I hope that I can make a lot of progress to Tokyo, and I can improve this result, and I should be at my peak four years later in Paris, when I should also get closer to medals.”

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Franko Grgic, of Croatia – Photo Courtesy (main image): Croatian Swimming Federation

It is correct to say that Croatia has never had an Olympic finalist over 1500m freestyle, though the country was once part of Yugoslavia, as was Slovenia, and the best of all of that was this, from three Yugoslavians who hailed from Slovenia:

  • 1980: Borut Petric (Yug/Slo)- 5th
  • 1988: Darjan Petric (Yug/Slo)- 8th
  • 1992: Igor Majcen (Yug/Slo) – 6th

When asked earlier this year about whether he thought he might own the world record one day, Grgic, of Split, said: “Of course I know that the world record is 14:31:02 (Sun), and I hope to attack and break it down once in my career.”

He talks as if he had been around in the pool for years. That’s because he has and his time spent shadowing the black line has meant following a tough and disciplined path.

Grgic started swimming at 10 after having tried taekwondo and football. The pool was where he felt at home and he transferred to the Adriatic club from POŠK when he was 11, when coach Ruzic spotted his potential and took him under his wing.

A high-school student, Grgic is in his second year at the Technical School of Mechanical Engineering and Mechatronics but his course takes into account his first choice and love: swimming.

For the past couple of years his routine has not been 9 to 5 but 5am ’til 9.30 at night. He told the 24SATA channel:

“I get up at 5:00, have a quick breakfast because I’m already at 6:00 in a training session that lasts an hour and a half. From the pool I hurry to school, which starts at 8:00 and lasts until 14:00, then back to the pool, to another training session which lasts from 14: 45-17: 30, sometimes until 18:00. After that, I eat well, study for a little while, and at 9:30 pm I go to sleep. I am saved by my parents who take me and bring me to the pool, otherwise I would not have gotten there.”

Would that not be a nightmare for the average 16-year-old, they asked him. Says Grgic:

“When my peers go out, I’m already in bed. It’s not always easy, but when you have a goal in front of you that you want to reach, it’s easier. Sometimes I go out with friends for a drink, but swimming is in the forefront.”

Grgic stands 187cm tall, weighs 70 kg and enjoys some key attributes of fast swimmers: he’s lanky and has a long arm reach and big hands and feet. Athleticism runs in the family: siblings Ana and Ivana are also talented swimmers.

Grgic ploughs the lanes 4-5 hours a day, so what, wondered 24SATA reporter Tomislav Gabelić, did he think about during all that slog:

“I think about obligations, about school, I sing a little inside myself … Nothing special, it goes by quickly because you have to think about the technique of swimming and turns, it’s not just jump into the pool and swim.”

In Baku last month, Grgić took gold over 400m and 1500m freestyle, a 3:52.10 in the shorter distance followed by his 15:04 win over the longer distance. Now, his new high bar is 14:46.09.

At that pace Grgic matched the 6th place world ranking achieved by Apostolos Papastamos and a World junior record in the 400m medley yesterday.

They join a growing list of young achievers and ‘new’ names entering the realms of Olympic podium contenders this season, Canada’s Maggie MacNeill and Australia’s Ariarne Titmus, as American Regan Smith and Hungary’s Kristof Milak all collecting World senior titles in Gwangju last month.

Florian Wellbrock (R) of Germany celebrates after winning in the men's 1500m Freestyle Final while third placed Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy looks on during the Swimming events at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships, Gwangju, South Korea, 28 July 2019.

Florian Wellbrock – Photo Courtesy: Patrick B. Kraemer

In the 800m, won by Olympic 1500m champion Paltrinieri, Henrik Christiansen, of Norway, and David Aubry, of France, stepped up to take the minor spoils to grant their countries podium firsts at world titles, while Germany’s Florian Wellbrock is among the men Grgic will have his sights set on.

Wellbrock claimed marathon gold, felt the weight of an 800m that came to soon in the pool beyond open water in Gwangju but rebounded for 14:36.54 victory over 1500m in a thriller with Mykhailo Romanchuk, of Ukraine, on 14:37.63, and Paltrinieri, on 14:38.75.

Grgic’s junior days are not over but it is the senior pace that he is working towards.

27 comments

  1. Pat Kennedy

    Phenomenal swim!!

  2. Sue Thorpe

    Wow wow wowser 👏🏻🙌🏻👏🏻🙌🏻

      • avatar
        Anonymous

        I dream reaching them

    • Aaron Wands

      16 years old and faster than Kieren Perkins. 😳

    • Doug Newman

      Aaron Wands yup…we live in fast times

    • Mathis Castera

      Marc-André Duchesneau sauf qu’il nage 40 secondes plus vite que moi haha

    • Marc-André Duchesneau

      Mathis Castera seulement 13 si on prend ton temps en petit bain.

  3. Jake Renie

    Ante Lučev

    • Ivka Boskovic

      Kaz Boskovic lucky you didn’t have to compete at Bosnia champs this year otherwise who knows hah

    • Mitchell Donaldson

      Pješivac club relay featuring Franko and Garanjo

  4. avatar
    john m razi

    Love the details, ’76-photo..et le commentaire internationale. great-stuff!

    • Matt Gilling

      Luke Lineham almost as quick as me 😂

  5. Gabriella Spajic

    Anthony Spajic Alana Spajic Jelena Spajic