Marathon Swim Qualifier (Men): Mellouli (TUN), also a champion in open water

London 2012 Swimming

Oussama Mellouli (TUN)Oussama Mellouli had warned: his entry into the open water elite would be memorable. In the second 10km event he ever raced, the Tunisian star won the men’s FINA Olympic Marathon Swim Qualifier held today in Setubal (POR). Mellouli completed the race in 1h45m18s5 after a superb strategy in which he always stayed in the leading group of athletes, providing a superb and decisive attack in the last two loops of the race.

The Olympic champion of the 1500m free in Beijing (CHN) had declared in the Press Conference presenting the event in Setubal that, if qualified for London, he would fight for the medals in the British capital.

“Despite looking easy, it was a hard race! In April, when I participated in my first 10km race in Cancun, I had adopted a wrong strategy – I led for a long time, and then I lost some power in the end of the race. Here, it was different: I managed myself well throughout the race and I save some energy for the end”, considered Mellouli after the medal ceremony.

“Four years ago, Australian Grant Hackett, also an Olympic champion in the 1500m free, tried to qualify in marathon swimming and was not successful. I had of course that in mind when I decided to also opt for open water, but so far it paid off”, declared Mellouli, eager to defend some days before the marathon swimming event in London, his 1500m free title in the pool.

Men's podium in Setubal: Weinberger (CAN), Mellouli (TUN) and Stoychev (BUL) - credit: José Lorvão

In Setubal, the first leader of the race was China’s Zu Lijun, who registered the fastest time in the initial three laps but lost most of his momentum in the second half of the 10km effort, finishing in a non-qualifying 23rd place. When Zu began to fade, Valerio Cleri (ITA, first at the fourth lap), Mellouli, Richard Weinberger (CAN), Petar Stoychev (BUL) and Troyden Prinsloo (RSA) started to dominate the operations. Mellouli was the fastest and had a solitary lead in the last hundreds of metres but the remaining four athletes of the lead brilliantly assured their qualification – Weinberger was second (11.7s behind the winner), Stoychev got the bronze (15.6s behind), Cleri was fourth (18.3s) and Prinsloo finished fifth (22.3s). If for Canada, this was the first qualification in the men’s event, Stoychev will swim in London his fourth Olympics (after performing in the pool in 2000 and 2004, he was the flag bearer of Bulgaria at the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Games, where he ranked sixth in the inaugural 10km race), Cleri will also try to do better than his fourth place four years ago, and South Africa will again have a representative in the Games – this time, Prinsloo, who did better in Portugal than 12th placed Chad Ho (who had been present in Beijing in 2008).

Oussama Mellouli (TUN) - credit: José Lorvão

“I am very happy to have qualified for London. All the conditions were excellent here and in my fourth Olympics, a good result would be to stay in the top-8”, confessed Petar Stoychev, one of the best open water swimmers in history and the world record holder of the English Channel. “After the Olympics, it’s time to be on the technical part of sport, not on the competitive side of it. It’s 98% certain that after London, I will think about something different. I will maybe contest the European championships later in the year, but then it will be time to retire”, said 36-year-old Stoychev.

Besides this group of five qualifiers, Japan’s Yasunari Hirai also got the direct qualification in sixth, followed by Igor Chervynskiy (UKR, 12th in 2008 at the Games), Ivan Enderica (ECU, 8th in Setubal) and local star Arseniy Lavrentyev (the Portuguese swimmer had been in Beijing four years ago, concluding in 22nd). After these first nine direct qualifiers, the continental spots went to Yuri Kudinov (KAZ, 10th), Erwin Maldonado (VEN, 11th), Csaba Gercsak (HUN, 14th), Kane Radford (NZL, 27th), and Mazen Aziz (EGY, 36th).

Petar Stoychev (BUL) - credit: José Lorvão

The main surprises from the side of the non-qualified were Allan do Carmo (BRA, 19th) and Damian Blaum (ARG, 37th), who were four years ago in the Games, concluding in 14th and 21st respectively. They are also solid swimmers in the annual FINA open water series and their success was in theory assured. The race in the waters of Setubal proved to be too hard for the two South American competitors.

Finally, the major upset of the day was the “internal” qualification for Great Britain. As host of the Games, one place was assured and David Davies was naturally the favourite to fill the berth. The silver medallist in Beijing was however not in shape and concluded in a modest 38th place. His compatriot Daniel Fogg finished in 35th and will be the British representative in Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park.

Valerio Cleri (ITA) - credit: José Lorvão