Slovak university gem swimmer Martina Moravcova

JULY 5, 2023
Martina Moravcová s univerziádnym zlatom

She is the most successful university athlete in the history of Slovakia. She won five gold and one bronze medal in swimming at the World Summer Universiade in 1995 and 1997. How does two-time Olympic silver medallist Martina Moravcova remember her university days? 


A brief insight into history

Swimming made its first appearance at the third edition of the International University Sports Weeks in 1951 in Luxembourg. However, it was not until the inauguration of the modern Summer Universiade in Turin in 1959 that swimming became a compulsory event in the FISU sports programme. During this first Summer Universiade, 12 records were broken, setting the milestone for another 12 Universiade records just two years later in Sofia, Bulgaria. Due to its growing success, university swimming continued to attract more and more participants from students all over the world. In 1967 in Tokyo, the American swim team’s victory remains without a doubt one of the most remarkable performances in the history of the Universiade, taking home a total of nine world records. The swimming success story continued in the 1980s and 1990s, best exemplified by the 1981 Summer Universiade in Bucharest, Romania, where 26 Universiade records were broken in 29 events. Just two years later in Edmonton, Canada, Soviet swimmers, led by world record holder Vladimir Salvikov, literally crushed their rivals to win 22 titles. Edmonton was also the first international event for future Olympic champion Alex Bauman. The level of swimming competition at the Universiade remained high and top swimmers such as Matt Biondi, Michael Gross, Jon Sieben, Otylia Jedrzejczack, Yana Klochkova, Rachel Komisarz, Oleg Lisogor, Tom Malchow and Gustavo Borges competed at both the Olympics and the Universiade.


Moravcova overwhelmed the favourites

In 1997, the Summer Universiade was held in Sicily, Italy, where a new swimming complex was built especially for the Universiade. Everybody was expecting Olympic champion Penelope Heyns to perform, but in the end it was Slovakia’s Martina Moravcova who put on a show by winning four individual gold medals (100 and 200m individual medley, 100m butterfly, 200m individual medley, 200m individual medley). These were added to her two medals from the 1995 World Universiade in Fukuoka (gold – 100 m backstroke, bronze – 200 m individual medley).


What are your memories of success at the World University Games?

“Japan was my first Universiade and I must admit that the only thing I really remember from Japan is the pool where the event was held, because I visited six years later when I returned there for the World Championships in 2001. We are going back to Fukuoka again this year. Although the pool will probably be different, but the Universiade is always beautiful in that it is done in the manner of an Olympic or university village. All the athletes are more or less together. It’s not like the world championships where the athletes stay separated by hotels. You have the feeling of a village background and that’s unique. Our athletes can experience that at the Universiade or the Olympics.

I remember in Fukuoka there was a village built by the sea. We had access to the sea and it was very beautiful. The Japanese knew how to organise the Universiade very well. Each school in Fukuoka was given a task to study something about the designated country and the children from the school came to cheer in the hunger pits. Slovak flags were not quite commonly available back in 1995. I remember the little Japanese kids running into the stands with Slovak flags and cheering us on. I liked the connection.”


In 1997, a huge success came in the form of four gold medals at the Universiade in Sicily, Italy.

“I flew to the Universiade in Italy straight from the European Championships in Seville . I had to cut my time there short because of the Universiade. Despite it being such a short European trip, I lost my bags and didn’t even have my own room. I ended up having to sleep in the same room as our swimmers, who I partially evicted to the balcony. I had to compete in a swimsuit with American colors. These are experiences one will never forget. I still remember that during this Universiade there was a sad event when Princess Diana died.”


She chose Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas from a list of several American universities for a swimming scholarship. She went there shortly after the Universiade. She eventually settled in that Texas town and trained there under coach Steve Collins from September 1995 until her competitive career ended.


In swimming, four swimmers will represent Slovakia in Chengdu.

Simon Kliment (Sheffield Hallam University), Sabina Kupčová (University of Iowa), Zora Ripková (Georgia Institute of Technology), Adam Rosipal (University of Kentucky) and the implementation team: Matej Kuchár and Ivana Lange. Zora Opalka and the Slovak men’s water  polo team will also represent Slovakia for the Slovak Swimming Federation.