By Steven Munatones, Swimming World Open Water correspondent
ROME, Italy, July 21. THOMAS Lurz, the most experienced open water swimmer in the field, proved he knows his sport and his competition at the men's 5K race at the FINA World Championships. As he sat back of the leading pack on the first loop, Lurz waited until 18-year-old Andrew Gemmell of Delaware made a break at the 3-kilometer mark.
Gemmell took the temporary lead as 40 men started their pursuit.
"I felt good and [the pace] wasn't tough, but perhaps I was in the lead for too long," Gemmell said. "Around the second-to-last turn buoy, I let up a bit and let Lurz take the lead."
Germany's most decorated open water swimmer relished the opportunity and took off never to relinquish the lead.
"[Lurz] set an extremely tough pace down the back half," Gemmell said. "I was behind him and the Greek swimmer [eventual silver medalist Spyridon Gianniotis], but I wasn't right on their feet. I couldn't close the gap, so I moved over to Fran's pack."
Down the back straightaway, Fran Crippen of Germantown Academy swam off to the side of Lurz and Gianniotis, leading a group. As Lurz and Gianniotis continued their blistering pace, Crippen took a slightly different line, making the rest of the field make a choice. Gemmell went with his American teammate as did much of the field. Lurz never let up, but frequently looked back at his competitors.
As the two split packs converged around the last turn buoy, Lurz had a final 650 meters to hold the field off. Nipping at his heels, Gianniotis went with him as the entire field swung wide. Very wide.
"They just had their heads down and were battling each other," said Sid Cassidy, who had a great vantage point.
"We made a big loop and I realized this [mistake] very late," Lurz said. "But it was OK and it doesn't matter in open water. Even if you swim further, your finish place is what matters."
Chad Ho, a 19-year-old open water Olympian from South Africa, agreed.
"I was fifth around the last turn," Ho said. "I was thinking ‘the top five is good.' But when the leaders skewed wide, I kept to myself and took a different line [to capture the bronze]"
Down the finish chute, Gianniotis almost caught Lurz, but Lurz had enough kick left to win in 0.3 seconds.
"I'm happy. It was good conditions today, but we have a 10K race tomorrow," said Lurz. "I am the oldest swimmer here, so I have to relax, get a massage, eat good like pasta and sleep good before tomorrow. If I don't feel drained, then we do it again."
The entire field in tomorrow's 10K race will have Lurz in its sights, but he has proven himself time and time again.
"Thomas [Lurz] is phenomenal," said silver medalist Gianniotis. "He is the best in the world of open water swimming."
GOLD: Thomas Lurz, GER: 56:26.9
SILVER: Spyridon Gianniotis, GRE: 56:27.2
BRONZE: Chad Ho, RSA: 56:41.9
4. Luca Ferritti, ITA: 56:44.3
5. Andrew Gemmell, USA: 56:44.9
6. Loic Branda, FRA: 56:47.0
7. Francis Crippen, USA: 56:47.1
8. Diego Nogueira Montero, ESP: 56:47.2
9. Simone Ruffini, ITA: 56:47.3
10. Francisco Jose Hervas, ESP: 56:47.9
10. Vladimir Dyatchin, RUS: 56:47.9
12. Evgeny Drattsev, RUS: 56:48.5
13. Andrew Beato, AUS: 56:52.4
14. Rodrigo Elorza, MEX: 56:55.3
15. Csaba Gercsak, HUN: 57:07.1
16. Trent Grimsey, AUS: 57:07.2
17. Jan Posmourny, CZE: 57:07.8
18. Julien Sauvage, FRA: 57:09.6
19. Luiz Eduardo Lima, BRA: 57:11.1
20. Jakub Fichtl, CZE: 57:21.1
21. Jan Wolfgarten, GER: 57:31.7
22. David Creel, CAN: 57:37.1
23. Kostiantyn Ukradyga, UKR: 57:48.8
24. Richard Charlesworth, GBR: 57:57.4
25. Igor Snitko, UKR: 57:58.1
26. Luis Rogerio Arapiraca, BRA: 58:04.9
27. Daniel Viegas, POR: 58:05.0
28. Daniel Delgadillo, MEX: 58:17.7
29. Kurt Niehaus, CRC: 58:17.8
30. Esteban Enderica, ECU: 58:17.9
31. Gergely Gyurta, HUN: 58:20.8
32. Daniel Marais, RSA: 59:21.9
33. Alfie Howes, GBR: 59:36.8
34. Ivan Enderica, ECU: 59:40.1
35. Yvan Hernandez, VEN: 1:01:53.9
36. Angel Moreira, VEN: 1:01:57.1
37. Tomas Vachan, SVK: 1:02.06.8
38. Juan Prem Biere, GUA: 1:07:45.2
39. Mohammed Jassim Alghareeb, KSA: 1:07.49.8
Orel Jeffrey, ANT: Over time limit
Kareem Valentine, ANT: Over time limit