By Tito Morales
TIBURON, Calif., September 14. AT the rate she’s going, Brooke Bennett may one day be awarded the keys to the city…
Beneath a breathtakingly picturesque sky in San Francisco Bay, Bennett once again proved that she owns the one mile stretch of waterway between Angel Island and Tiburon known as Raccoon Strait, by capturing the Fifth Annual RCP Tiburon Mile in a time of 19:30.
Bennett's victory, her fourth in the prestigious competition, earned the three-time Olympic gold medalist the top prize of $10,000.
Dawn Heckman, an open water expert who is initiating a comeback in the pool at the age of 26, sprinted across the line 15 seconds later. Former Stanford University star Jessica Foschi duplicated her 2002 third place finish, this time around in 19:58.
Heckman and Foschi’s shares of what continues to be one of the largest purses ever awarded for an open water competition, were $3,000 and $1,000, respectively.
On the men’s side, Chad Carvin led the entire field up the finishing ramp with his first-ever Tiburon crown in 18:51. Carvin, like Bennett, earned $10,000 and, in the process, he demolished the existing course record by a whopping 40 seconds.
Also climbing onto the podium this year were University of Minnesota senior Justin Mortimer, who finished just six seconds off the pace, and Russian 5k
and 10k open water specialist Evgueni Bezroutchenko, who was another eight seconds back.
Mortimer, still an amateur, promptly donated his runner-up check to the event’s designated charity, the Marin Chapter of the Northern California Special Olympics.
Since its inception in 1999, the RCP Tiburon Mile has been committed to completely redefining the manner in which to stage an open water event. The method, established by event founder Robert C. Placak, is clear-cut, ambitious, and extremely admirable: offer a lucrative purse, attract a world-class field, and generate as much publicity as possible for a sport which is woefully underappreciated.
And each year, it seems, Placak, a former elite swimmer who still performs at a top level as a Masters competitor, continues to raise the bar on what has
become a high grade production.
This year’s offering again consisted of a stellar blend of collegiate stars, Olympians and open water specialists, including athletes from Cal Berkeley and the University of Michigan, Lindsay Benko, Erik Vendt, Trudee Hutchinson, Ryk Neethling, Erika Rose, Scott Goldblatt, Jessica Foschi, and Chris Thompson.
Throw in swimming luminaries John Naber and Janet Evans, who were on hand to cover the event for Fox Sports Net, and we’re talking about a swimming
happening that crackles and sparkles like few others.
Just as eager to be a part of the action and excitement, though, was an energetic and enthusiastic collection of age groupers and Masters swimmers
which numbered close to 500.
Stroking For Dollars
The conditions on race day were ideal for fast swimming — with mild weather, favorable currents, nearly imperceptible waves, and warmer than usual water temperatures — and the athletes did not disappoint.
The course record, 19:31, was set by two-time RCP Tiburon champion Neethling in 2001. But it was clear almost from the moment the swimmers plunged into the waters off Ayala Cove that this standard was in jeopardy.
The initial surge was fast, furious — and very physical.
“The start was the toughest it’s been in five years,” said Bennett, who, like many of the competitors, sported a few bumps and nicks at the post-race
Alex Kostich led the early charge toward deeper water, but a large pack which consisted of Neethling, Mortimer, Carvin, Bezrouthcenko, Vendt, and defending
champion Thompson refused to let the former Stanford distance ace establish much separation.
Once the swimmers made the sweeping left turn out of the confines of the cove and shot toward the distant homes lining the hills above the Tiburon harbor, though, the group began to splinter into three distinct packs and the race quickly turned from physical to cerebral.
Defending champion Thompson chose one tact, and Vendt, in his first ever open water competition, elected to shadow his long-time pool foe. Goldblatt and Bennett took off in another direction, and Kostich, Neethling, Carvin, and virtually the rest of the field selected still a different line.
Halfway across the strait the navigational decisions became even more pronounced, and the question to be answered was which group had calculated right.
Swimmers in the main group slowly began to fall off the pace as Mortimer, who was making his first attempt at this crossing, began to press the issue. Carvin, meanwhile, was more than content to bide his time behind his fellow Mission Viejo Nadadore.
“I really have to thank my teammate, Justin,” Carvin admitted afterwards, understandably appreciative of the fortuitous draft.
Bezroutchenko lurked within striking distance, but Carvin, after two consecutive third place finishes here, seemed determined to rise to the top of the podium in 2003.
Last weekend the Laguna Hills native posted an impressive 1 mile/3 mile double at the La Jolla Rough Water Swim. Exactly seven days later, he proved he can perform equally well in colder water.
When the groups had begun to converge just outside the harbor, those who had chosen to strike out away from the main field had simply too much water to overcome.
With about 500 meters to go, Carvin pushed past Mortimer as the two swimmers closed in on the large crowd lining the docks of Tiburon. Mortimer had no
response for the move, and by the time Carvin’s feet hit the ramp leading up to the finish line, he knew that victory was assured.
“You have to have a little bit of luck,” Carvin shrugged afterwards, “and that’s how it worked out for me today.”
Bennett, meanwhile, assumed control of the women’s race and never looked back. As she has proven here time and again, she is fearless when it comes
to mixing it up with the big boys, and her years of experience at this venue have made her an expert in these waters.
“I just follow my gut,” said Bennett, discussing how she chooses her line.
Halfway across the strait, Bennett found a wonderful opening between a convoy of fast-moving males and it became apparent that the only thing which was going to stand between her and yet another title would be a disastrous navigational error.
And for someone with her familiarity of these waters, that wasn’t about to happen.
“It’s a great feeling,” Bennett said of her victory.
“Every year it means more and more.”
The water and weather conditions may vary from year to year, but one thing about the RCP Tiburon Mile remains a constant: the event boasts impeccable organization, draws one of the most dynamic international fields in the sport, and shines a well-deserved spotlight on the sport of competitive swimming.
Notable finishers included 45-year-old Masters phenom Suzanne Heim-Bowen of Walnut Creek, eighth overall in 21:10; 8-year-old Bradley Cline of Kentfield and 74- year-old Janet Lehman of San Francisco.
Cal's swim team won the team title based on order of finishes by its men and women.
The Tiburon Mile can be seen at 4 p.m. Oct. 5 on Fox Sports Net.
For a more complete story on the RCP Tiburon Mile, please refer to the November issue of Swimming World magazine.
1 1 3 CHAD CARVIN 29 Laguna Hills CA USA 18:51
2 2 29 JUSTIN MORTIMER 21 Mission Viejo CA USA 18:57
3 3 22 EVGUENI BEZROUTCHEN 24 Moscow RU RUS 19:05
4 4 35 ERIC VENDT 22 NORTH ESTERN MA USA 19:11
5 5 8 RYK NEETHLING 25 South Africa AFR 19:13
6 6 1 CHRIS THOMPSON 25 Ann Arbor MI USA 19:13
7 7 27 ALEX KOSTICH 33 Los Angeles CA USA 19:17
8 8 4 ANDREW HURD 21 CAN 19:25
9 9 24 SCOTT GOLDBLATT 24 Austin TX USA 19:25
10 11 72 DANIEL LYSAUGHT 18 Australia AUS 19:34
1 10 10 BROOKE BENNETT 23 Valrico FL USA 19:30
2 15 14 DAWN HECKMAN 26 Los Angeles CA USA 19:45
3 17 12 JESSICA FOSCHI 23 Old Brookville NY USA 19:58
4 19 11 LAUREN COSTELLA 18 Carson City NV USA 20:04
5 22 45 KASEY GITEAU SYDNEY AUS 20:21
6 26 41 ASHLEY CHANDLER 19 Elkhard IN USA 20:47
7 29 16 TRUDEE HUTCHINSON 23 WALSEH AUS 21:01
8 34 13 SUZANNE HEIM-BOWEN 45 Walnut Creek CA USA 21:10
9 35 58 ERIKA ROSE 21 Cleveland OH USA 21:10
10 36 44 MCCALL DORR 22 Lafayette CA USA 21:11