Roberval 2010, Day 1: Italy's Martina Grimaldi wins 10K event; silver medal goes to teammate Giorgia Consiglio

The morning of the first race, the women's 10K, opened with bright sunshine and a gentle breeze on the placid surface on Lac-St-Jean defying the predicted rain and thunderstorm forecast for Saturday, July 17th.

The 24C degree water was churned up only by the 38 athletes who dove from the bright blue pontoon starting dock into the competition course for the FINA Open Water World Championships in Roberval. The spectacular venue on the shores of lake St-Jean belongs to the Traversee International du Lac-St-Jean Organisation.

As the 10K is the only open water event in the Olympic Games, contested first and only once in 2008 during the Beijing Olympics, this field, not unexpectedly, included all of the medalists from the 2008 Olympic Games. Also present were the three athletes from the podium of the 2009 FINA World Championships. Olympic Champion Larissa ILCHENKO (RUS) and FINA World Champion Keri-Anne PAYNE (GRB) were the most accomplished of the contestants and were the likely favorites in an experienced start list. Thirteen athletes in today's race competed in the Beijing Olympic Games two summers ago.

A brief rainshower greeted the athletes as they completed their first of four 2.5K loops on the course. One athlete, Canadian Zsofia BALAZS was pulled from the water before completing her first loop. BALAZS was kicked by another athlete at the start and hyperventilated as she tried to keep up with the pack. Race officials reported that contact between the athletes jockeying for position was "physically rough but not vicious".

At the 2.5K the FINA 2009 World Champion from Rome PAYNE was in the lead with a time of 31:07, about one second ahead of Eva FABIAN (USA); Italian swimmer Martina GRIMALDI (ITA) followed in the third position.

By the turn leading into the halfway mark two things were evident; first that the skies had cleared and secondly that the British and the American continued to swim within inches of each other as if on a tether. Each was determined not to let the other pull even slightly ahead or to allow a different competitor to join their squad.

At the 5K mark PAYNE held only the slightest lead over FABIAN. Ekaterina SELIVERSTOVA (RUS) was just an inch or two back;  all three athletes shared an identical split time of 1:02.35. Six athletes had received yellow cards warning them about too much physical contact with their competitiors. One additional swimmer had abandonded the race by the half way point.

Melissa GORMAN (AUS) led the pack at the 7.5K point in a time of 1:33.59. GORMAN, a gold medallist in the 5km at Ostia Beach at the 2009 FINA World Championships in Italy last year recently set a new Australian record for the 1500m freestyle at the Australian Championships earlier this year. FABIAN was one second back and just barely ahead of PAYNE and GRIMALDI, in 3rd and 4th position respectively. FABIAN, who has consistenly been in second place for the first three quarters of today's 10K race holds two FINA World Cup silver medals from events in New York City in September 2009 and in a race in Argentina in February of this year. GRIMALDI placed third in the Rome 10K event, 1.5 seconds behind PAYNE, the 2009 FINA 10K Champion. The 18th swimmer was only 11 seconds behind the leader.

Thirty-three athletes passed through at the 7.5K mark. Of the five who were out of the race, one athlete was disqualified for missing a bouy. Larisa ILCHENKO, the Beijing 10K Gold Medalist was taken out of the water due to hypothermia. The Russian owns a silver medal from the 5K event in last summer's FINA World Championships.

The final loop of the race was physically demanding for the athletes who were each drawing on their reserve power. As a final sprint is always expected by those expecting to capture a medal, the strategy of the potential champion is to make their move at the perfect and opportune time in an effort to put some distance from her competitors. At 500 metres from the finish, Martina GRIMALDI of Italy was prepared to give what it would take for her to touch the pad first. "I needed an all out sprint to break away from the pack. I did not know where my energy was coming from, but I knew that I was capable of moving ahead and of finishing first" said the 22 year old champion of the 2010 FINA 10K event. The 10K winner added: "After my third place finish in Rome last year I decided that I wanted to make a great race in future 10K events. I wanted to do better than my performance from last summer's World Championships". GRIMALDI is coached by Fabio CUZZANI and they train in Bologna, Italy.

Martina Grimaldi (ITA) - credit: Satiro Sodré/CBDA

The race for second was extremely hard fought with three swimmers all targeting the left side of the touchpad instead of spreading out to avoid contact with each other. Melissa GORMAN (AUS), Georgia CONSIGLIO (ITA) and Airelie MULLER (FRA) continued to steer left, each trying to "dig into" the same section of water as they sprinted towards the touchpad. Their touch was what we often refer to in sports as a "photo finish".

Just after GRIMALDI's finish in 2:05.45.20: "I turned around to see who touched next and I was really surprised to see my teammate Georgia CONSIGLIO (ITA) among two other athletes trying to capture the silver medal. I cried when I saw her touch the pad. I was sure she earned a medal but I wasn't sure which position." While GRIMALDI had completed over two dozen 10K races, the 20 year old CONSIGLIO had never swum an event longer than a 5K. "I started swimming 5K events for training and the experience. Today my last lap was very hard and I am very pleased with my first 10K race."

The challenge for the event officials and the referee was not simply determiniing the order of finish, but also involved reviewing the video of the finish to establish if there had been an infraction by one or more of the athletes during the crowded finish. An infraction by the French athlete MULLER was observed and later announced as "unsporting conduct" towards Australian Melissa GORMAN. According to FINA Open Water Swimming (OWS) Rule 6.3.2 the French swimmer was disqualified by the referee. The French federation protested their athlete's disqualification and a Jury of Appeal was convened, composed of the members of the FINA Technical Open Water Swimming Committee and their FINA Bureau Liaison, Dennis Miller. During the review of the video of the finish of the 10K race the disqualification of the French swimmer was confirmed and the French federation's protest was denied.

During the review of the finish by the Jury of Appeal it was determined that Melissa GORMAN (AUS) had responded in an "unsportsmanlike manner" and was similarly disqualified from the race, applying OWS Rule 6.3.2. According to Dennis MILLER, "the finish of the race was extremely tight. Unfortunately we do not have the benefit of the same technology that is used for pool swimming. Our efforts to determine the correct order of finish and that the final results at the finish were fair, took a considerable period of time."

The announcement of the official results took longer than the 2:05.45.20 time it took by the Italian GRIMALDI to complete her 10K race. The thunderstorms and heavy rain predicted for Roberval did in fact return to the venue minutes after the finish of the 10K race and again immediately following the release of the official results. Due to the inclement weather the medals ceremony for the womens' 10K will be held tomorrow either immediately following or immediately preceeding the men's 10K medals ceremony.

The third place finished in the women's 10K event was Yanqiao FANG of CHINA in a time of 2:05.59.0. Great Britian's Keri-Anne PAYNE fell off her pace and placed 7th. USA's Eva FABIAN was disqualified for missing a buoy at the only right hand turn in each loop before the feeding station at approximately 9.3K.

CONSIGLIO's coach, Emanuelle Sacchi reported "this is a great result for Italy - it is the first time that two Italian women swimmers will be on the podium together." At the Press Conference Coach Sacchi offered: "I am very proud of these swimmers. They do this all for glory and perhaps they will be rewarded with a little bit of money to support their training. They do not swim for money; in Italy it is not possible to swim for money."

Martina Grimaldi & Giorgia Consiglio (ITA) - credit: Satiro Sodré/CBDA

On Sunday at 11:30 am, 37 men are entered in the FINA 10K championship event.