Spyridon Gianniotis of Greece, a three time Olympian, wins men's 10km

Shanghai 2011 - Open Water Swimming

Spyridon ("Spyros") Gianniotis of Greece, a three time Olympian is heading to his 4th Olympic Games. The 31 year old placed 16th in the inaugural 10km event in Beijing but he surely will be considered one of the favourites in the London Olympic Marathon 10km after capturing the world title in the men's 10km event today at Jinshan Beach, Shanghai. Gianniotis has previously shown his strength in the 5km event, placing third in the 2007 FINA World Championships in Melbourne and second in the 2009 edition in Rome.

Gianniotis who felt he was in 35th position at the halfway mark was able to pass Britain's Daniel Fogg with about 1200m left in the race. Gianniotis overtook the defending world champion Thomas Lurz of Germany in the final 100m of the men's 10km marathon. Gianniotis and Lurz alternated the lead during a 750m sprint to the finish line. Gianniotis struck gold at 1:54.24.7, two and one half seconds ahead of Lurz, the most decorated male open water swimmer of the century. Lurz owns a bronze medal from the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. 

Lurz won the 10km event two years ago in Rome as well as gold medals in the FINA Open Water World Championships in 2004 and 2008. Lurz is also the world's greatest 5km swimmer having won a major title each and every year from 2005 through 2010. The German titan holds 9 Gold, 3 Silver and 3 Bronze medals in FINA world championship open water swimming events.

Sergey Bolshakov of Russia placed third and his Russian teammate Vladimir Dyatchin earned his pass to the London Olympics with a 9th place finish. Dyatchin is no stranger to the 10km, having collected the title of World Champion in the 2003 and 2007 FINA World Championships in Barcelona and in Melbourne. Lurz's German teammate Andreas Waschburger was the final athlete to qualify for the London Olympic Games. Only Russia and Germany have qualified two athletes for the 2012 Olympic Marathon 10km. 

Alex Meyer (USA), the 2010 FINA Open Water World Champion in the 25km, finished in fourth place, 8.4 seconds behind the champion. "My main goal coming here was to make the Olympic team," he said. "It's kind of a bittersweet moment because Fran Crippen, who tragically died in October 2010 in the last leg of the FINA 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup in UAE] is not here. That was a dream we shared to go to the Olympics together and it's not going to happen now."

Daniel Fogg of Great Britain was hoping to book his ticket to his home nation's Olympics by a fast start and a strong finish. He was the leader after the first (29:00), second (57.30) and third (1:26.30) loops. Fogg appeared to be taking a page from the playbook of Keri-Anne Payne (GBR), yesterday's 10km women's champion. Payne took the lead avoiding the congestion and the physicality of the other athletes. Fogg led the field of 67 swimmers for more than 8km with the two German swimmers consistently on his shoulders for nearly all of the time that he was out in front.

Credit: Giorgio Scala
Credit: Giorgio Scala

A twenty year old Gianniotis competed in the 400m and the 1500m freestyle events in his first Olympic Games in Sydney. At the 2004 Olympics in his home country he represented his nation well in the finals of the same two events, placing 5th in the 1500m freestyle and 7th in the 400m freestyle. The freestyle specialist repeated the 400m and 1500m event in this third Olympics in Beijing, but by his own admission he was already contemplating a more successful future in the Olympic Marathon.

Ironically, the 1.85m and tattooed athlete was born in 1980 not far from the haunts of the Beatles in Liverpool, Merseyside. The Greek swimmer declared that "swimming in London will be like swimming at home" as he is the son of an English mother. 

Gianniotis insists that open water swimming is like the Olympic (running) Marathon or the Tour de France of cycling.  The Greek swimmer is convinced that lots of training and experience is necessary before one can be a successful open water swimmer. "The older you get the better you are able to compete and to keep your mind focused. This is hard to do when you are younger." Asked about the strategy of Fogg, the Hellenic swimmer said "when I started in the sport I thought the same thing, race a strong 7.5km and then endure the ‘hell’ of the last 2.5km.  I am a guy who waits and keeps his mind focused and maintains my strength.  For me, the best tactic is to keep my energy for the sprint.  It can't be a sprint for 1000m, but sometimes it feels like it is."

More from the Greek champion: "In today's race I felt uncomfortable, due to the water temperature, for the first 6km. I was frustrated with the elbows and the contact while debating with myself  'I can, I cannot, I can'. But when I picked up the pace at the 8km I just felt stronger and I was eager to qualify for London. As I felt better and better I thought I would race for a medal. It was very hard for me but the success is that I now have my first gold medal in a FINA World Championships."

Lurz, also 31 and formerly a pool swimmer, spoke of the fact that two German swimmers will compete in the next Olympics: "This is a very big success for the German Swimming Federation. Washy (Andreas Waschburger) and I have a good relationship and sometimes we train together. I am very happy that he has also qualified." When asked about the tactics of the British swimmer he said "in the men's race it is impossible to win by leading from the start to the finish. Of course when you swim alone you can avoid the fighting. I agree that everyone has their own tactics, but for me I prefer to sit back and conserve my energy for a strong finish."

The rest of the top 10, who also automatically qualified for the 2012 London Olympics include Australia’s Ky Hurst, Spain’s Francisco Hervas Jodar, Belgium’s Brian Ryckeman, France’s Julien Sauvage, Russia’s Vladimir Dyatchin and Germany’s Andreas Waschburger.

With 10 of the 25 Olympic spots being filled this morning, the remaining 15 spots will be at the 2012 Olympic Marathon Swim Qualifier in Setubal, Portugal, on June 9-10. One of the 15 will be reserved for an athlete from the Olympic host nation. The fastest from each of the five continents will qualify for an Olympic berth and the balance of the positions will be filled by the fastest athletes from the men's qualifying event. Only one per nation will be selected to complete the 10km field. A total of twenty-three different nations will be represented in the men's 10km event in the 2012 London Olympic Games.

A five-loop course in Setubal Bay is intended to replicate the 2012 London Olympics course to be held in the Serpentine in Hyde Park. Setubal is located on the outskirts of Lisbon. The water temperature is expected to be between 18 and 19 degrees centigrade while the air temperature could be as warm as 32 degrees according to the Paulo Frischknecht, the President of the Portuguese Swimming Federation (FPN) and FINA Bureau Member.

The Open Water portion of the FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China will continue on July 21 with the 5km team event. The team event is a new addition to the World Championships with 17 nations entered. Each team will consist of three swimmers per each team with each gender represented. Teams will leave one minute apart and the time of the slowest swimmer will be used to determine the order of finish.