PERTH, W. Australia, April 27. CAMPBELLTOWN'S 24-year-old marathon swimming sensation, Mark Saliba, braved the testing high wind conditions of Burwood water on the Swan River to claim his sixth consecutive Australian 25km title while local Western Australian, Melissa Benson, booked her spot on her second Australian team for the World Championships with a prolific maiden win in the women’s event.
A small contingent of six men and six women started the event with plenty of casualties throughout the day proving its worth as the toughest event on the Australian Swimming calendar.
Saliba looked dominant in his victory that was completed in style, considering the tough, choppy water that witnessed just three men and four women complete the grueling physical and mental battle from a combined starting field of twelve.
"That was one of my best races. I'd probably rate it about a nine-and-a-half out of ten given the conditions and after my average swim yesterday in the 10km, finishing fourth. I really wanted to give it to myself from start to finish," Sailba said.
"I started to feel really strong between the 15 and 25 kilometer mark, where I put the gap on Brendan, and it was good to be able to finish so strongly.
"For me, I didn’t find it that cold. Some of the other guys carry a little less fat but the conditions are all about keeping your mind on what you are doing."
The open water veteran was pleased by his performance and record sixth consecutive title that he completed in an incredible time of 5 hours 17 minutes 35 seconds, a little over six minutes ahead of his nearest rival.
"I like to think I’ve got it down pat, winning six in a row. One thing Australia and myself can do to improve is race overseas, and I will be doing plenty of World Cup events this year.”
"Abu Dhabi is a long way off and I will only have that one race at Worlds, so I can go in concentrating on that race. But for now it’s time to party and I am looking forward to having a beer, especially since I haven’t had one since New Year's Eve."
Brisbane 19-year-old, Brendan Capell, swam brilliantly to take the silver medal in a time of 5 hours 23 minutes and 53 seconds, and now looks to be a strong selection for his second consecutive Australian team to contest the World Championships later in the year. The third and final male competitor to complete the course was The Hills' 23-year-old, Deke Zimmerman, who grabbed bronze in 6 hours 10 minutes and 30 seconds.
In the women’s event it was the 20-year-old local, Melissa Benson, who defeated her opposition to grab her maiden Australian Championship victory. The City of Perth swimmer touched the finishing banner in a solid time of 5 hours 55 minutes 37 seconds.
" I feel great…pretty happy," she said. "I guess you're going in hoping to win. I was only 14 seconds behind Shelley (Clark) at last year’s championships, so I knew I was in with a good chance,” Benson said.
"I probably knew that I had the race about midway through when I started catching the field. They just couldn’t stay on my feet."
It was a well-deserved win for the Western Australian, who was surprised with her maiden gold and now direct entry onto her second Australian team in as many years.
"It was hard last year to just miss the Australian title, but I gained plenty of experience from the World Championships in Barcelona and it’s a much different race at that level. You have to make sure you stay with the pack.
"I have to thank my coach and parents but probably most of all my handlers, Glen Eldon and Nikita Barsby, who kept me occupied with photos and pictures.
"They held up cut out photos of Todd Pearson and Geoff Huegill just for a bit of comic relief. That helped. Now I will have a break because I am not racing until November and go celebrate with a few drinks with the rest of the open water crew."
It was another sensation for second place with Queenslander, Lauren Guy, swimming to a superb performance of 6 hours 3 minutes 21 seconds with the Ferny Hills teen claiming a spot on her first-ever Australian team to contest the World Championships.
Newcatsle 23-year-old open water veteran, Shelley Clark, took the bronze in 6 hours 15 minutes, 35 seconds while the final competitor to complete the course successfully, 17-year-old Western Australian, Rachael Williams, put in a gutsy swim to stop the clock in 6 hours 51 minutes 59 seconds.
An official Australian team will be announced at a later date for the World Open Water Championships to be held in the United Arab Emirates in November and more closely for some of the sport's young up-and-comers, the Oceania Championships team that will compete in Suva, Fiji in a little over a month’s time.
UNOFFICIAL AUSTRALIAN OPEN WATER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP TEAM
Lauren Arndt Miami, QLD
Melissa Benson City of Perth, WA
Lauren Guy Ferny Hills, QLD
Catherine Ware Burnside, SA
Brendan Capell Commercial, QLD
Grant Cleland The Hills, NSW
Mark Saliba Campbelltown, NSW
Josh Santacaterina Nepean, NSW
Courtesy: Australian Swimming