Amidst intermittent rain showers and rainbows, the FINA World Junior Open Water Championships got underway in Beau Vallon Bay on Mahe island.
BEAU VALLON (SEY) - With a kaleidoscope of tropical colours and weather patterns, it didn’t take long for the day to turn golden for the USA in Seychelles.
Men’s 5km Open Water | Ages 14-15
Nathan Szobota started the gold medal binge started for the United States in the Men’s 5 km, just out touching Italy’s Davide Grossi by 1/10th of a second finishing the 5km in 48.50.9. Diego Heinze of Germany also figured in the final drive for the line, just 7/10ths of a second back from the win.
An accomplished pool swimmer as well as excelling in open water, the fifteen-year-old Virginia native Szobota started today’s race conservatively, in the back half of the pack in the early stages of the first lap before coming through the first of the two 2.5km loops in thirteenth, 13 seconds behind Heinze who led at the midway point.
Szobota joined the leading group with just over a kilometre to go, then had what it took to hold onto the top spot.
“I was definitely a little bit slower off the start than a wanted to be,” Szobota said while recounting his race after the podium ceremony. “But then I worked my way into the top of the first pack in the middle of the second lap and then ultimately past the pack.
“Into the finish, I was just giving it everything I had, just trying to get my hand on the touchpad first,” Szobota added. “I just got it, barely.”
Women’s 5km Open Water | Ages 14-15
In the women’s 5km, USA’s Claire Weinstein took a different tact, with the Las-Vegas, Nevada-based swimmer from the Sandpipers of Nevada club team closely leading Turkey’s Tuna Erdogan and Noa Martin of Spain. Turning from the final buoy with 300m to the finish, Weinstein pulled away slightly to find open water, winning in 51:52.4. Erdogan crossed 4.4 seconds after in 51:56.8 for silver, followed by Noa in bronze in 52:05.9.
While for most athletes competing at the FINA World Junior Championships is their first foray into international competition, Weinstein comes with USA Olympic trials and FINA World Championships experience.
Weinstein competed earlier this summer at the 19th FINA World Championships by finishing second to Katie Ledecky in the women’s 200m freestyle final en route to becoming the youngest American to qualify for the senior world championships since Elizabeth Beisel did it back in 2007.
Now, Weinstein is on the individual international medal table, adding her first world age-group title today to the 4x200m freestyle relay gold she won in Budapest (Weinstein also finished 10th in the individual 200m freestyle) in the senior ranks.
Moving Up In Distance
While the men’s and women’s 5km events were characterised by close, selected pack finishes, this trend didn’t continue in the men’s and women’s 7.5 km competitions for the 16- and 17-year-old competitors.
Men’s 7.5km Competition | Ages 16-17
Hungary’s Hunor Kovacs-Seres kicked off the afternoon competitions by taking command early, extending his lead through the second-of-three laps, and then holding on for the final 2.5km loop to win going away in 1:16:02.1.
For Kovacs-Seres, this follows the 5km he won at the European Junior Open Water Championships 2021
Coming off his impressive 11th place showing the Men’s 5km at the European Championships, Germany’s Linus Schwedler finished just off the podium in fourth. He was closely followed by Kaito Tsujimori with the two finishing in 1:16:20.9 and 1:16:21.6, respectively.
Women’s 7.5km Competition | Ages 16-17
The Women’s 7.5km capped the day the way it started, with an American - this time Katie Grimes - atop the podium.
Both speed and endurance seemed to be on her side in Seychelles, as Grimes turned a five-second advantage on the field into a nearly fifty-second lead heading into the final lap before winning by over two minutes in 1:22:38.5. Narin Burcunaz of Turkey followed, winning a final sprint over Lia Csulak of Hungary. The silver and bronze medallists finished in 1:24:57.9 and 1:24:58.9.
While Grimes came into the competition with an eighth in the FINA Marathon Swim World Series and fifth in the open water 10km at the FINA World Championships, the sixteen-year-old said she into her first world juniors with an open and flexible game plan.
"I didn’t come in with too much of a tactic; I just didn’t really know what to expect at the junior worlds. Every day we’ve been out here before, the conditions have looked like a lake and today it was pretty rough, so I just really went with the flow of everything and stay calm.
“Our nationals that we had back home prepared us pretty well for this. I was open for any situation.”
Not only was it a multi-medal day for the USA open water contingent, but Grimes also joined her Sandpipers of Nevada training mate Weinstein as a gold medallist in Seychelles.
“Yeah, it's awesome," Grimes said about the feat. "This just goes back to what we do together in training every day. We train to win so I think we did a great job of that today. With the help of Team USA, we’re trying to do whatever we can to help the team.”
Talking team, look for today’s competitors again on Sunday for the 4x1500 Mixed Relay. It’s something that Grimes is especially looking forward to.
“Excited for that. We’re just going to have fun with that one and do the best that we can.”
Temps and Breezes
The "swimming pool" conditions that Grimes and Rio 2016 Games gold medallist and FINA Athletes' Committee Member Ferry Weertman talked about didn't continue into race day as the 26-degree water was paired with an eight-kilometre breeze and on-and-off showers throughout Friday. The weather and waves picked up from there for the Men's and Women's 7.5km races that followed the 5km competitions.
Results from all the races can be found here.
Coming Up on Saturday
Tomorrow will be the time for the 18- and 19-year-olds to take to the waters of Beau Vallon Bay for the Men’s and Women’s 10km competitions. The events get started at 10 am local time (GMT+4).