By Steven Munatones, Swimming World Open Water correspondent
ROME, Italy, July 21. MELISSA Gorman won Australia's first swimming medal of the FINA World Championships after pulling off one of the greatest upsets of the sport.
Gorman led the entire way around the two loops of the 5K course until Russia's Larisa Ilchenko started to pull alongside her in her typically dramatic manner. Ilchenko sat in second for the entire race conserving energy and drafting off Gorman.
With less than 100 meters to go, Ilchenko picked up her pace as she normally does, and pulled even with Gorman with 50 meters left. The open water swimming community at Ostia Beach nodded their head in appreciation of Ilchenko's closing finish as the two women went stroke-for-stroke down the finish chute. With 25 meters to go, Ilchenko kicked into high gear and established a quarter-stroke lead.
But similar to Michael Phelps at the Beijing Olympics in the 100-meter butterfly, the race wasn't over until the very last stroke.
With 10 meters to go, Gorman surged and nearly pulled even. The two women took their last few strokes and reached upwards towards the blue FINA finish banner above the water's surface. Ilchenko, with a slight edge, reached up first, a victory apparently assured. Her hand was just inches from the banner, when Gorman came in with a fast flat hand touch to pull off the upset.
The crowd gasped as Gorman's name flashed on the scoreboard with a 56:55.8 finish time.
"It was an amazing swim. It's like a dream come true," said Gorman, who had placed 15th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics 10K Marathon Swim. "I'm so excited. I really didn't expect this result. It is an incredible feeling."
Despite having lost for the first time in a major international championship since 2004, Ilchenko took the silver medal in stride.
"I thought I could win [as we swam down] the finish chute, but I want to congratulate [Gorman]," Ilchenko said.
Brazil's Poliana Okimoto took the bronze in another close finish over Spain's Yurema Requena.
"I didn't expect to finish third," Okimoto said. "I am very very happy to win this medal. It is the first women's medal for Brazil in a FINA world championships in 15 years."
All three medalists and many others in the 5K race have less than 24 hours before they turn around and have to compete in the 10K race over the same course.
"[After today's tough 5K race,] tomorrow's race will be difficult," said Ilchenko who expressed the opinion of all her competitors.
But after a delay of two days due to weather conditions, the venue could not present better conditions as the water was about 74 degrees F with nearly no winds and near-glassy conditions.
GOLD: Melissa Gorman, AUS: 56:55.8
SILVER: Larisa Ilchenko, RUS: 56:56.3
BRONZE: Poliana Okimoto, BRA: 56:59.3
4. Yurema Requena Juarez, ESP: 57:00.8
5. Ekatarina Seliverstova, RUS: 57:04.7
6. Kristel Kobrich Schimpl, CHI: 57:17.1
7. Andreina Pinto Perez, VEN: 57:29.4
8. Kate Brookes-Peterson, AUS: 57:42.7
9. Emily Brunemann, USA: 57:43.0
10. Rachele Bruni, ITA: 57:43.2
11. Jana Pechanova, CZE: 57:44.3
12. Olga Beresneva, UKR: 57:45.5
13. Nadine Pastor, GER: 57:47.8
14. Xue Li, CHN: 57:52.8
15. Emily Hanson, USA: 57:53.5
16. Swann Gabriell Oberson, SUI: 57:551.
17. Giorgia Consiglio, ITA: 57:55.8
18. Teja Zupan, SLO: 57:58.1
19. Britta Kamrau, GER: 58:09.0
20. Marianna Lymperta, GRE: 58:09.1
21. Natalie du Toit, RSA: 58:56.3
22. Coralie Codeville, FRA: 59:00.8
23. Zaira Cardenas, MEX: 59:23.7
24. Nika Kozamernik, SLO: 59:25.0
25. Charlotte Woolliscroft, GBR: 59:25.2
26. Patricia Maldonado, VEN: 59:26.2
27. Alona Berbasova, UKR: 59:27.6
28. Nataly Caldas Calle, ECU: 59:27.8
29. Alannah Jury, NZL: 59:37.5
30. Silvie Rybarova, CZE: 59:37.8
31. Katia Barros, ECU: 59:42.8
32. Bridget Coley, CAN:59:44.5
33. Natasha Terri Wing Yung Tang, HKG: 59:46.8
34. Vanessza Balogh, HUN: 59:48.5
35. Yu Shi, CHN: 59:50.0
36. Isabelle Longo, BRA: 59:51.3
37. Dominque Dryding, RSA: 59:53.2
38. Nadine Williams, CAN: 1:02:22.8
39. Cindy Toscano, GUA: 1:08.41.9
40. Lucia Vachanova, SVK: 1:10:17.2
Karin Clashing, ANT: Over time limit
Patricia Castaneda, MEX: Disqualified