Baku, June 22, AZERTAC
Russia’s young swimmers may have been the dominating force in the last edition of the European junior championships in 2014, but their boys did not have things all their own way.
While Russia won 19 of the 42 golds on offer at last year's competition in Dordrecht, in the Netherlands, only four were won by their men's squad, so opportunity again knocks for challenging teams, with Great Britain, in particular, having brought a very competitive squad.
"The Russians always have a really strong team but it’s still a little bit of an unknown when you go into a championship like this," said Great Britain's European junior 200m backstroke champion Luke Greenbank, who is also the fastest junior in Europe at 100m and 200m backstroke this year.
"Sometimes, some of their swimmers you haven’t seen before just blow you away. There were quite a few at the Youth Olympics (Nanjing 2014) last year but you’ve got to race them and be confident against them."
Two who are already well known are Anton Chupkov, the Youth Olympics 100m breaststroke champion, and the hugely gifted Daniil Pakhomov, at 16 the fastest junior butterfly swimmer in Europe and a superb medley performer.
Both have already been selected for the Russians’ senior world championship squad travelling to Kazan next month.
In Baku, Chupkov will renew a rivalry with his brilliant Croatian counterpart Nikola Obrovac. In Nanjing, the Croat took the 50m breaststroke crown, with Chupkov taking bronze, but Obrovac could only finish fifth behind the victorious Muscovite in the two-length race.
Greenbank's teammate Duncan Scott, also part of Britain’s victorious Youth Olympics 4x100m freestyle relay quartet, has his eyes set on an Olympic place next year.
He is the fastest freestyler in the field over 100m and 200m but may face stiff opposition from the likes of Italy's Alessandro Bori, Youth Olympics 4x100m freestyle relay silver medallist.
The race to find the fastest man in the water will bring together the three quickest in Europe this year in the 50m freestyle - Brit Thomas Fannon, who sprung from obscurity to finish second in the national senior championships in April, Italian Giovanni Izzo and Russia's Aleksei Brianskii.