FINA CHAMPIONSHIPS

Melani Costa wins 400m freestyle silver

Spanish swimmer breaks national record in brave pursuit of Katie Ledecky

Melanie Costa with her 400m freestyle silver medal.
Melanie Costa with her 400m freestyle silver medal. ANDREU DALMAU / EFE

Melani Costa scooped Spain's first medal in the pool at the World Aquatics Championships in Barcelona on Sunday as she took silver in the 400m freestyle.

The 24-year-old Mallorcan set a new Spanish record of 4:02.47 as she finished behind Katie Ledecky of the United States, who swam much of the race at above world record pace. It was Spain's eighth medal of the championships so far, following seven podiums in the synchronized swimming.

On Saturday Spain won silver in the final synchronized swimming event of the championships, the team free title, to complete a tally of three silvers and four bronzes.

Team members, coaches and the directors of the Spanish federation alike celebrated the haul as a significant achievement. Above all the feeling was one of relief, given the fact that the world championships were being held on home soil had placed big pressure on all those involved.

The dismissal of head coach Ana Tarrés in September 2012, which a judge had ruled as unfair and was never sufficiently explained by federation directors, had created a climate of tension in the group, which Saturday's final helped release.

For federation president Fernando Carpena, the results serve to justify the changes he set in motion, while new coach Esther Jaumá says the seven podiums confirm her good work.

But the unknown factor is whether an overall drop in Spain's points total is a sign of the trajectory the team will follow on its way to the next world championships in Kazan in 2015 and the Rio Olympics in 2016.

The quality of the performances has decreased at Barcelona, judging by the points the team received, with the gap between Russia - the dominant power in the sport, which earned a clean sweep of seven golds - and Spain widening since the last world championships in Shanghai in 2011. There, the total difference in points across all events between the nations added up to 18,100; in Barcelona it increased to 19,700 points. A similar trend has occurred in relation to China. If it continues, the proximity of Ukraine could be worryingly close in the next couple of years

Three of the choreographies Spain presented in Barcelona were composed by Tarrés and all the swimmers belong to her model of selection and training.

As the events got underway at the Palau Sant Jordi pool on Sunday, Mireia Belmonte qualified for the final of the women's 200m individual medley with the fifth fastest time of 2:10.66.

The Spanish heroine of the London Olympics, where she won two silvers, had earlier missed out on reaching the final of the 400m freestyle - in which Spain's Melanie Costa ultimately won silver with a new Spanish record - perhaps because of her earlier effort in the 200m individual medley heats.

Also on Sunday, the competition proved bittersweet for Catalan swimmer Judit Ignacio. In the 100m butterfly she achieved the exact same time as Japanese competitor Natsumi Hoshi, with both women finishing in 16th place. The turn of events required a swim-off which was won by Hoshi, despite the fact that Ignacio broke her own Spanish record in the process, setting a new marker of 58.87.

In the men's 4x100m freestyle relay heats, Spain found itself eliminated after Juan Miguel Rando jumped too early on the third changeover.

Meanwhile, in the men's 50m butterfly Rafa Muñoz just missed out on a spot in the final after finishing with the ninth fastest time in the semis.

Earlier the Spanish men's waterpolo team booked its place in the quarterfinals with a 6-10 victory over the United States in its best match of the Barcelona championships so far.

It joins the Spanish women in the final four of the tournament. Following their victory over New Zealand on Saturday, the women play the US in the quarterfinals on Monday evening.