Germany at its best

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Thomas Lurz and Angela Maurer take half of the gold at stake in Ostia

After experiencing bad sea conditions that dictated the postponement of the programme for two days, the site of Ostia successfully hosted the open water competitions of the 13th FINA World Championships – on July 21 for the 5km races, July 22 for the 10km and July 25 for the 25km. Germany (with Thomas Lurz and Angela Maurer) confirmed its status of powerhouse in this discipline by conquering three gold medals (half of the titles on offer). The remaining World champions came from Australia (Melissa Gorman), Italy (Valerio Cleri) and Great Britain (Keri-Anne Payne).

The major (negative) surprise of these competitions came from Russia’s side: dominating the open water major events during the latest years, the swimmers from this huge European country did not get any gold in Rome, finishing with three silver and one bronze. On the positive side, Greece, Brazil and South Africa left the Italian capital with one medal each.

5km – July 21

Men

Thomas Lurz (GER) won the men’s 5km open water race of the 13th FINA World Championships at Ostia Beach in Rome (ITA) and therefore successfully defended his world title from the Melbourne Championships of 2007. In fact, Lurz has swept the 5km event from the last four FINA World Championships (either general or World Open Swimming Championships) – winning in 2005 (Montreal), 2006 (Naples), 2007, and 2008 (Seville). Lurz finished with a time of 56:26.9, while his primary challenger Spyridon Gianniotis (GRE) took silver in 56:27.2. The bronze medal went to a fresh face on the open water world stage – Chad Ho (RSA), who clocked 56:41.9. Italy’s Luca Ferretti took fourth in 56:44.3.

Speaking after the race, when asked about how he keeps winning year after year, a happy and calm Lurz said: “Over the past years I gained a lot of experience and this helps me to keep my will and anger to win again and again.” Gianniotis, whose sole previous appearance on a FINA World Championship podium was when he took bronze in the 5km in Melbourne, said he did not expect to get the silver because he thought his physical fitness level was sub-prime. “This guy,” he said, referring to Lurz, “is phenomenal. He is the best in the world in open water. Before, I could only imagine being this close to him.”

Ho, on the other hand, was truly elated. He bounded from the water after taking the third spot, pumping his fists. “It was a big surprise for me (to win a medal),” he said later, smiling. “I am young - 19 years old – I don’t have any experience. I was very lucky, but I used good tactics.” His bronze medal not only gave South Africa its first medal at these Championships, but its first ever World Championship open water medal. His award is furthermore just the second medal for Africa in the history of open water swimming at FINA World Championships – the first was achieved by Mohamed El Zanaty (EGY) when he won bronze in the 25km (in Melbourne).


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Thomas Lurz (GER) - credit: AFP/gettyimages


Women
Melissa Gorman (AUS) was the first open water gold medallist of the 13th FINA World Championships after she defeated Larisa Ilchenko (RUS) in the women’s 5km by 0.5 seconds. As the 2008 10km Olympic champion and the 5km winner in every FINA World Championship open water event since 2004, Ilchenko was the natural favourite. Thus, Gorman – a 2006 Commonwealth Games silver medallist in the 800m - jumped for joy on the shores of Ostia Beach when she emerged victorious from the water after a gruelling but successful sprint to the finish. Gorman clocked 56:55.8 for Ilchenko’s 56:56.3. After another hard fight for the minor medal, Brazil’s Poliana Okimoto (BRA) took bronze in 56:59.3. Yurema Requena (ESP) finished fourth in 57:00.8.

This is the first world title for an Australian swimmer over the 5km distance. In fact, among women, Australia has only acquired two previous gold medals at World Championships; from Shelley Taylor-Smith (winner of the 25km in 1991 in Perth and in Rome at the World Championships of 1994).

On the side of deceptions, is worth noting the 19th place of Germany’s Britta Kamrau-Corestein (fourth in Melbourne 2007 and seventh in Seville 2008), one of the most consistent athletes in the last decade.

10km – July 22

Men

Thomas Lurz (GER) took his second gold medal in two days by winning the men’s 10km at Ostia Beach, proving that he continues to be among the top-three open water swimmers in the world. Incredibly, this was Lurz’s twelfth medal from FINA World Championships, six of which have been gold. In the 10km alone, he has medalled five times since 2004, taking gold twice. Finishing in the silver and bronze medal positions were the two American competitors in the event: Andrew Gemmell and Francis Crippen, respectively. These two reached the top-3 after making dramatic surges to the end within the last 500m.

Lurz took the lead early and held it for the first half hour, trailed by the two Italian representatives: Valerio Cleri and Simone Ercoli (ITA). The majority of the race was basically conducted by the pace-setting of Lurz and Cleri, both of whom were medal favourites. Trent Grimsy (AUS) was also a persistent threat, often swimming in third place.

Later, into the second hour, these top four still controlled the front, with Cleri more often in first. In the final lap, Bertrand Venturi (FRA) took a turn in the lead, as did Brian Ryckeman of Belgium. The swimmers moved rapidly and in a long pack formation. With just 1.5km to go the swimmers took their last supplement, after which Cleri regained the top spot, with Ryckeman, Lurz and Grimsy and Ercoli chasing him down.

From that point forward however, the competition elevated and up to eight swimmers were suddenly in medal contention. A chain reaction took place within the field as the leaders accelerated. The end was in sight and a golden battle took place, but all the while Lurz was undefeatable; never relenting with his powerful stroke. Notably, multiple swimmers broke free from the pack behind and swiftly advanced on the outside, including the two Americans Gemmell and Crippen, who would, in a surprising outcome, steal the minor medals from the four to six swimmers that had led the entire way – including the home favourite Cleri.

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The women’s 10km podium: Seliverstova (RUS), Payne (GBR) and Grimaldi (ITA) - credit: AFP/gettyimages


Women
Keri-Anne Payne - the 10km Olympic silver medallist from the Beijing Games – is now the reigning World Champion over this premiere open water distance. She raced perfectly at Ostia Beach, winning with a time of 2:01:37. This victory makes Payne just the second female British open water athlete in history to reach the podium at FINA World Championships (after Cassandra Patten, who won 10km silvers in 2007 and 2008), and Payne is the first British open water swimmer to win a gold. Ekaterina Seliverstova (RUS) – with a time of 2:01.38 – earned silver after a head-to-head sprint to the end with Martina Grimaldi (ITA), who took bronze in 2:01.38.6, much to the delight of the spectators.

Afterwards, Payne - who also swam the 200m and 400m medley in the pool events - discussed her winning plan: “I just went in wanting to get to the front of the pack; just try to get to the front and stay there because I knew other swimmers would want to beat me and I wasn’t going to let that happen.” She added that the lead boat had done a fantastic job of keeping the group on track because the wind and waves might have caused them to go off-course. In fact, the race was very close for almost the entire 10km. From the start the swimmers made a large group and did not considerably disperse until the final minutes. As such, it was difficult to predict the outcome.

Angela Maurer (GER, 34 years old) was fifth, after being fourth in Beijing 2008 and Melbourne 2007 and seventh in Seville 2008. In 2003, in Barcelona (ESP), she had been second in the 10km, and in 2006 in Naples she won the 25km.

In an unfortunate turn of events that likely influenced the outcome of the race, close to half-way across the course Larisa Ilchenko (RUS) - reigning Olympic and World Champion in this event from Melbourne 2007 - withdrew from the race and emerged from the water limping. Evidently, the injury to her upper left leg that caused her problems in yesterday’s 5km (she had already explained that it inhibited her ability to sprint for the win) had become too much for her to bear on this day.

25km – July 25

Men

Valerio Cleri gave Italy its first gold medal of the 13th FINA World Championships by winning the men’s 25km open water race in a time of 5h26m31. The silver went to Australia’s Trent Grimsey, who touched home almost 20 seconds later in 5h26m50, and Vladimir Dyatchin (RUS) secured bronze in 5h29m29. Race conditions were choppy, with large waves and relatively high winds. Swimmers had to complete 10 laps of 2.5km.

This was an extra sweet victory for Cleri after he finished a disappointing fourth in the 10km. Even better, he earned this medal at home in Italy in front of a joyous crowd of supporters lining the beach to cheer him to the end. He emerged from the water smiling ear-to-ear with his hands in the air; he even took a small bow.

The only other medal Cleri has won at a FINA World Championship was silver in the 10km in 2006, when he was also competing in Italy – in Naples. Following the race Cleri said he had done his best, explaining: “This time the race was less exciting, but maybe it was better. It was a different situation because there was no final sprint (unlike the 10km event). In the last two laps I decided to swim faster and faster.”

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Valerio Cleri (ITA) - credit : gettyimages


Grimsey is a newcomer to the FINA podium club. He finished 8th in the 10km and just 16th in the 5km, so his top-three finish was a nice improvement for him and will certainly be a motivating factor for his career. Following the race he admitted he “really wanted to win a medal this week,” and that he had “learnt a lot after the 5km earlier in the week, which gave me some good experience and I just hoped I would be able to use that today.”
On his result, Dyatchin said: “I am satisfied with having won a medal after the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (at which he competed in the 10km but was disqualified), even though I won gold in Melbourne in 2007.” Dyatchin has been a force at FINA World Championships, and this bronze represents the eighth medal he has collected since 2001 (3 bronze, 2 silver and 3 gold).

Women
Angela Maurer (GER), already an open water icon, earned another medal to add to her FINA World Championship collection after winning the 25km. She is now the owner of eight medals from various FINA Championships - 4 bronze, 2 silver, and now 2 gold (both of her titles are in the 25km, the first of which she earned in 2006). Maurer touched home in 5h47m48, with silver medallist Anna Uvarova (RUS) finishing in 5h47m51, and Federica Vitale – giving the large Italian crowds gathered along the shoreline something to cheer about – took bronze in 5h47m52.

Afterwards, Maurer explained: “My goal in Rome was a medal and I got gold,” adding that she made use of all her experience to win. Regarding the conditions, she noted that “with waves it is important to swim in the lead”, and that although she generally likes the heat and the waves “today there was a little too much”.


MEDALS IN OPEN WATER SWIMMING


Gold Silver Bronze Total
GER 3 - - 3
AUS 1 1 - 2
ITA 1 - 2 3
GBR 1 - - 1
RUS - 3 1 4
USA - 1 1 2
GRE - 1 - 1
BRA - - 1 1
RSA - - 1 1
Total 6 6 6 18
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