Strong field competes in Setubal (POR) for last Olympic marathon swimming berths

London 2012 Swimming

Everything is ready in Setubal (POR) to welcome the more than 100 swimmers (61 men and 41 women) from 45 countries searching for their final qualification for the 10km marathon swimming races at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. This weekend (June 9 for the women, and June 10 for the men), the last 15 places in each gender will be decided in Portuguese waters, where for the last six years (since 2006) was also held a leg of the FINA 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup.

In the Press Conference presenting the event, both the local organisers and the athletes present in Setubal displayed their confidence in a great event. “We are very proud of hosting this qualification, the only one in Portuguese soil for the London Olympics. Both races will be thrilling, as we have a very strong field – both in quality and in quantity”, admitted Paulo Frischknecht, President of the Portuguese Swimming Federation and FINA Bureau Member.

In fact, after the first stage of qualification – the first ten placed swimmers in both the men’s and women’s races at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai (CHN) – many other stars are looking for their Olympic ticket in the next couple of days. Experienced athletes in open water are in Setubal but a handful of successful pool swimmers are also looking for an Olympic berth. In the first group, we could name Damian Blaum (ARG), Allan do Carmo (BRA), Petar Stoychev (BUL), David Davies (GBR), Valerio Cleri (ITA), Natalie du Toit (RSA), Yuri Kudinov (RUS), Linsy Heister (NED) or Ashley Twichell (USA). In the second category, we can find Oussama Mellouli (TUN).

Press Conference presenting the Marathon Swimming Qualifier event in Setubal - credit: Rita Taborda/FPN

The Tunisian star, winner of the men’s 1500m free at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing (CHN) was present at the Press Conference and left his remarks on the event: “The water is a bit cold, but that way we will swim faster!” he declared, visibly happy with his option to complete his pool preparation with the participation in open water events.

Asked about the reason of choosing also open water - the Setubal race will be his second 10km effort, after a participation some weeks ago at the Cancun (MEX) leg of the FINA 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup -, Mellouli declared in a short interview for the FINA website: “Why not?” He immediately completed his reply, by recalling: “At the Olympics in London, marathon swimming will be after the pool events, so all the pressure is gone. That is not the case at the World Championships, that’s why I am trying this Olympic qualification”. Recognising some lack of experience if compared to some “veteran” in open waters, the Tunisian champion considered: “It may be true, but I have the 10km in my arms, I can perfectly do them in competitive conditions. Anyway, I haven’t changed anything in my training preparation, so long events in the pool and open water are complementary”.

If qualified in Portugal, Mellouli is clear about his goals in London: “I’ll swim for the podium. It may seem a bit ambitious for a neophyte like me in this discipline, but I’m ready. I still need to adapt to new factors such as physical contact, swimming in a pack of competitors, turning the buoys, but I’m getting adapted quite fast”.

With qualifying times in the 1500m free, 400m free and 400m individual medley - Mellouli still hasn’t decided which of the latter two he will swim, together with his pet event-, he recognises that Sun Yang (new world record holder since Shanghai 2011) is the man to beat in the longer distance, but this challenge only adds motivation to the Tunisian star.

Besides two of the Portuguese athletes hoping to get their Olympic qualification - Arseniy Lavrentyev and Daniela Pinto - Ashley Twichell was the other international competitor present at the Press Conference. “I am here since Monday, and everything looks perfect! I really look forward to competing here tomorrow and hopefully get my ticked to the Olympics next August”, she considered.

This will be the second time marathon swimming is in the Olympic programme, after the first two inaugural races at the 2008 Games in Beijing (CHN). 25 men and 25 women are competing in Olympic waters, in a two-hour effort that will be held at the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park, well at the centre of the British capital.