BARCELONA, July 19. SOME tourists could easily spend five hours shopping or eating along La Ramblas, but the five-plus hours the competitors in the 25-K spent in the water was anything but easy.
The fastest swimmer was Russia's Yuri Kudinov, who completed his "tour" in 5:02.20 while the first female to finish was Holland's venerable Edith Van Dijk, who took 5:35.43.5 to complete her adventure.
It was not at all surprising that Kudinov or Van Dijk captured the gold medal since both were defending chmpions in this aquatic marathon. Kudinov won this event in each of the past three years, beginning with his first title in Honolulu in November 2000. Van Dijk had similar results in 2000 and also last year in Sharm-El-Sheik, Egypt, although she achieved only the silver medal in the 25K event in Fukuoka. What was surprising is that both the men's and the women's races ended in very close finishes and each with a familiar cast of champions.
The final 800 meter sprint of the men's event was preceded by a group of seven swimmers who began the final round by testing the endurance of each other. Three of them were able to break away from the pack and began an all-out sprint for the touchpad. Spain's David Meca and Bulgaria's Peter Stoichev had taken turns as the lead swimmer of the event. Kudinov managed to stalk the leaders for most of the race, comfortably drafting off those who swam only a few meters ahead of him. Kudinov, Meca and Stoichev swam side by side and stroke for stroke, demonstrating near super-human endurance as they completed the run-down of the last few meters.
The results were delayed for 10 minutes as officials and Omega Swiss Timing experts were consulted to determine the correct order of finish. Only four-tenths of a second separated Kudinov from Meca, while the ever confident Spanish hero told the television cameras that even he was not certain he had won the event.
Meca declared "it was a tough race, a very tough finish, and all three of us are champions." Meca earned a bronze medal in the 10K event held three days ago. The Spaniard had won a gold medal in the 10K World Championship in Honolulu and also the silver medal behind Kudinov during the November 2000 event.
Kudinov told reporters today, "I am extremely pleased with this result, but this victory was much harder than the other three." Stoichev also competed in the 10K event in 2000 and claimed the silver medal finishing less than four seconds behind Meca.
American Andrew Bray, nearly 45 years old and the oldest competitor at the FINA World Championships, finished in 19th place, 45 minutes and 23 seconds behind the winner. That was about 9 minutes faster than the other American, Ryan Dvorak — the youngest competitor in today's event — who finished in 21st place.
In the women's 25K event, Van Dijk showed true leadership as she was among the leaders for nearly the entire race. When Edith stopped for water or a feeding, so did almost everyone else.
For Van Dijk, the week just got better and better. Last Sunday, she was eighth in the 5K event, and on Wednesday she collected a bronze medal in the 10K event. Today she collected her 10th medal in a FINA Open Water World Championship event since her inaugural appearance in 1998.
"The last 5K was very hard but in the end I kept to my strategy. I took advantage of the current and often would pick up the pace to escape from my competitors, and only the Germans were able to keep up with me."
In second place was Germany's Britta Kamrau who said:
"I intended to get a medal in the Open Water events and this is my best placement in the 25K. I knew that if the finish was a sprint, that I would be in a good position for a medal, and today we finished in a sprint."
She and teammate Angela Maurer swam together to the finish line with Kamrau touching only four-tenths of a second ahead of Maurer, who claimed the bronze medal. In the 25K event in Sharm-El-Sheik, Egypt, last year, Van Dijk won the gold but it was Maurer who earned the silver and Kamrau the bronze medal. The Germans enjoyed great success earlier this week as Kamrau also received a bronze medal in the 5K event last Sunday and Maurer a silver in the 10K on Wednesday.
The US swimmers were right in the thick of things all the way and acquitted themselves well. Briley Bergen, 20, was eighth in 5:39:12.3, less than three-and-a-half minutes behind Van Dyke, while Tobie Smith, 30, placed tenth in 5:40:41.4.
1 KUDINOV Yuri RUS 79 5:02.20.0
2 MECA David ESP 74 5:02.20.4
3 STOICHEV Petar BUL 76 5:02.20.6
4 MAJCEN Igor SLO 69 5:02.25.6
5 KOCHKAROV EvgeniRUS 82 5:02.28.8
6 WANDRATSCH ChristofGER 66 5:02.28.9
7 GOMEZ Stephane FRA 76 5:02.29.1
8 LECAT Stephane FRA 71 5:06.40.7
9 HANSMANN ChristianGER 77 5:06.41.9
10 GARGARO Claudio ITA 72 5:07.25.5
11 PARLA MassimilianoITA 76 5:07.30.5
12 CAPELL Brendan AUS 84 5:07.38.2
13 SALIBA Mark AUS 79 5:09.41.8
14 MARTIN Alex ESP 80 5:11.09.2
15 BLAUM Damian ARG 81 5:11.41.9
16 BUCAR Jure SLO 66 5:14.23.2
17 VITEK Rostislav CZE 76 5:29.16.9
18 SZABO Gergo HUN 82 5:32.27.4
19 BRAY Andrew USA 58 5:47.25.5
20 KARAJOVANOV JaneMKD 78 5:55.53.0
21 DVORAK Ryan USA 85 5:56.08.6
1 VAN DIJK Edith NED 73 5:35.43.5
2 KAMRAU Britta GER 79 5:35.46.1
3 MAURER Angela GER 75 5:35.46.5
4 POPOVA Ksenia RUS 88 5:38.19.4
5 LA PIANA Laura ITA 81 5:38.21.7
6 PERSOONS Cindy BEL 80 5:38.54.8
7 PANKINA Natalia RUS 83 5:39.12.0
8 BERGEN Briley USA 83 5:39.12.3
9 NUNEZ Esther ESP 81 5:39.12.5
10 SMITH Tobie USA 73 5:40.41.4
11 HLAVCOVA Yveta CZE 75 5:41.54.0
12 CLARK Shelley AUS 81 5:46.38.5
13 STUTZEL Karley CAN 82 5:52.28.2
14 KRUEGER Nadia SUI 68 5:57.51.2
15 MORALIEVA IvankaBUL 83 6:01.09.4
16 ROMITI AlessandraITA 82 6:03.48.5
17 BARSI Claudia HUN 84 6:13.42.1
18 PUNET Celeste ARG 83 6:13.56.6
19 FERNANDEZ ElisabethESP 85 6:16.09.2
20 BENSON Melissa AUS 83 6:18.47.2
21 RIVERA Ibelis VEN 84 7:02.38.7
vdWEIJDEN Etta NED 79 DNF
SPERANDA Ines CRO 86 DNF