By P.H. Mullen
TIBURON, Calif., Oct. 27. THE question of who reigns as the best U.S. open water sprinter was answered – at least for today – with a resounding victory by Chris Thompson in Sunday’s RCP Tiburon Mile.
Thompson, the 6’5” American record holder in the 1,500-meter freestyle, took the lead 300 meters into this annual drag-race in the San Francisco Bay and slowly but inevitably pulled away from a ferociously charging pack that included the United States’ fastest distance and middle-distance swimmers as well as Russia’s world champion marathoner.
For the first 10 minutes of the 20-minute race, it appeared any of the half dozen stars drafting behind Thompson could potentially surge into the lead.
Then the mild-mannered University of Michigan graduate found a new gear. Using a powerful four-beat kick, he increased his minute lead to one meter and then to two meters. The pack fought to keep up, but Thompson continued to inch ahead. He eventually reached the magic gap for breaking away, about three meters. At three meters, the competition could no longer benefit from his considerable draft and it fell precipitously behind.
Free from the pack, Thompson surged forward and opened a lead so wide that it made the event announcer, Olympian John Naber, quip to the dockside audience of several hundred that the swimmer owned "a full pool-length lead over the field…if he were in a pool."
Thompson, the 2000 Olympic bronze medalist in the 1,500-meter freestyle, finished first in 21:07 and claimed the richest prize in open water swimming this year, $10,000.
"My goal was to take the lead one-third of the way into the race and not look back," Thompson said. "At the end, it hurt real bad, but I was able to hold it together to the finish."
The real race was for second place. In the mix was Olympian Chad Carvin, who led all 700 swimmers off Angel Island as they leapt into the frigid 56-degree water and headed toward the mainland. Carvin swam eye to eye with several of Thompson’s Michigan teammates, including Brendan Neligan, a distance free and 400m medley specialist who briefly led; Olympic gold medalist (in the 200m fly) Tom Malchow, who takes monster freestyle strokes; and newcomer Andrew Hurd, a Canadian with great speed. Rounding out the lead pack was Russian marathon star Eugueni Bezroutchenko.
Noticeably absent from the top group was Olympian Klete Keller. Keller is the American record holder in 400-meter freestyle who left USC earlier this year to turn professional and train full time under Coach Jon Urbanchek at Michigan. Keller was considered a pre-race favorite, but he took a disastrous course and was never a factor.
Of all people, it was Malchow, the 6’5” butterfly champion with little history racing freestyle, who had the power to pull away from the better-known freestyle experts and nab the $2,000 runner-up prize. In the
final 300 meters, Malchow and his six-beat kick drove relentlessly for Thompson and closed the gap considerably. He finished seven seconds back in
"I didn’t know what I was doing," Malchow said afterward. "I was just following everyone."
Taking third was Carvin, who exited the water in fourth place just a step behind Michigan’s Hurd. As an amateur, Hurd was illegible for prize money and so he politely stepped aside as Carvin, a pro, lunged past him for the $1,000 third-place prize money.
On the women’s side, Brooke Bennett made a resounding statement that she has returned to racing form after shoulder surgery had sidelined her for much of the year.
Bennett led comfortably from gun to tape. She was never challenged, and captured her third RCP Tiburon Mile championship. Like Thompson, Bennett pocketed $10,000, which is almost certainly ranks as the largest purse for a women’s open water swimming race (in professional marathon swimming, women’s purses are
usually smaller than men’s).
Bennett’s presumed competition, defending champion Cristina Teuscher, was never in the hunt and finished out of the money. Afterward, Teuscher held an enormous ice pack to her nose, a casualty of a rough swim.
Capturing second for the women was U.S.A. Swimming’s newest wunderkind, 17-year-old Lauren Costella of the Carson Tiger Sharks. Costella has won the previous two national championships in the 1,500-meter freestyle. As an amateur, she was ineligible for prize money and her winnings were donated to the Special Olympics. Taking third was Stanford graduate Jessica Foschi.
The RCP Tiburon Mile, now in it’s fourth year, has arguably become the premier open water event in the United States.
Founder Robert C. Placak attracts the world’s fastest open-water field by paying the expenses of elite athletes and enlisting the support of local
businesses and more than 200 volunteers. His success was showcased today under crystal blue skies as nearly 1,000 athletes and spectators enjoyed a post-race feast, a live jazz band, and easy access to the elite swimmers.
Cash prizes totaled $30,000, and this year’s field included at least six current Olympians, as well as two open-water world champions, and the collegiate teams of Michigan (men), Stanford (women), and Berkeley (men). After expenses, event proceeds go to the Special Olympics.
P.H. Mullen is author of "Gold in the Water." Visit www.goldinthewater.com
The RCP Tiburon Mile
Place No. Name City State Sex Div Time
1 4 Chris Thompson Ann Arbor MI 1 M:ELITE 21:07
2 22 Tom Malchow Ann Arbor MI 2 M:ELITE 21:14
3 3 Chad Carvin Laguna Hill CA 3 M:ELITE 21:19
4 19 Andrew Hurd Ann Arbor MI 4 M:ELITE 21:20
5 6 Evgueni Bezroutchen Moscow RU 5 M:ELITE 21:22
6 25 Brendan Neligan Ann Arbor MI 6 M:ELITE 21:24
7 20 Klete Keller Ann Arbor MI 7 M:ELITE 21:56
8 1 Ryk Neethling Tuscon AZ 8 M:ELITE 22:13
9 7 Steven McLeod Mission Viejo CA 9 M:ELITE 22:15
10 12 Brooke Bennett Davie FL 1 F:ELITE 22:35
11 18 Scott Goldblatt Austin TX 10 M:ELITE 22:45
12 24 Cameron Mull Capitola CA 11 M:ELITE 22:47
13 14 Lauren Costella Carson City NV 2 F:ELITE 22:47
14 5 John Flanagan Honolulu HI 12 M:ELITE 22:48
15 51 Ryan Lean Berkeley CA 13 M:ELITE 23:08
16 35 Jessica Foschi Washington DC 3 F:ELITE 23:14
17 21 Brian Lamar Whittier CA 14 M:ELITE 23:16
18 15 Suzanne Heim-Bowen Walnut Creek CA 4 F:ELITE 23:16
19 43 Dawn Heckman Los Angeles CA 5 F:ELITE 23:17
20 11 Cristina Teuscher New York NY 6 F:ELITE 23:18
21 13 Trudee Hutchinson Scarborough OL 7 F:ELITE 23:20
22 39 Dana Kirk Stanford CA 8 F:ELITE 23:22
23 50 Miguel Molina Berkeley CA 15 M:ELITE 23:45
24 49 Brooks Jenkins Berkeley CA 16 M:ELITE 23:49
25 53 Matt Schmelzer Berkeley CA 17 M:ELITE 23:51
26 23 Todd Menzel Newport Beach CA 18 M:ELITE 23:53
27 48 John Dorr Berkeley CA 19 M:ELITE 24:07
28 37 Claire Henderson Stanford CA 9 F:ELITE 24:24
29 36 Erin Glenn Stanford CA 10 F:ELITE 24:27
30 33 Laura Davis Concord CA 11 F:ELITE 24:28
31 44 Chris Gibson Berkeley CA 20 M:ELITE 24:29
32 41 Anna Strohl Stanford CA 12 F:ELITE 24:34
33 30 Katy Blakemore Stanford CA 13 F:ELITE 25:21
34 32 Ashley Daly Stanford CA 14 F:ELITE 25:42
35 52 Milorad Cavic Berkeley CA 21 M:ELITE 25:47
36 46 Mattias Ohlm Berkeley CA 22 M:ELITE 26:43
37 27 Darrell Schulz Lodi CA 23 M:ELITE 26:46
38 38 Tara Kirk Stanford CA 15 F:ELITE 26:49
39 2 Mark Leonard Ypsilanti MI 24 M:ELITE 27:24
40 34 Julie Flynn Folsom CA 16 F:ELITE 28:40
41 42 Courtney Weigand Jamyl CA 17 F:ELITE 28:49
42 40 Lindsey Masterson Tiburon CA 18 F:ELITE 31:52
43 16 Alexey Akatiev Moscow RU 25 M:ELITE 32:47
44 17 Dan Beeman Tiburon CA 26 M:ELITE 34:38
45 31 Corey Buchanan San Francisco CA 19 F:ELITE 35:04
46 26 Alfonso Partida Windsor CA 27 M:ELITE 36:01
47 54 Sheila Audet Pacifica CA 20 F:ELITE 43:50