Open Water Swimming’s Drag Race: The RCP Tiburon Mile

By P.H. Mullen

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif., Oct. 23 COLD water and fast swims are in store for hundreds of open water swimmers at this Sunday’s RCP Tiburon Mile in picturesque San Francisco Bay.

More an aquatic drag race than a typical open water swim, the four-year-old event has quickly developed into one of the world’s premier aquatic races – and one of its the biggest paydays.

This year, nearly 40 elite swimmers will be on hand to compete for $30,000 in cash prizes, and the lineup reads like roll call from Syndey’s 2000 Olympics and the international swimming scene.

South African Olympian Ryk Neethling, Tiburon’s two-time defending champion, will be on hand to seek his third title. Challenging him will be the U.S. triumvirate of middle-distance: Olympians Klete Keller, Chris Thompson and Chad Carvin. All three beat Neethling in the finals of the 2000 Olympic Games.

That oddly familiar face in the mix? None other than Tom Malchow, Olympic gold medalist in the 200-meter butterfly, and one of the best distance swimmers you’ve never seen long-race. Also look for U.S. Olympic sprinter/middle-distance dude Scott Goldblatt, a relay Olympic gold medalist. If Goldblatt can somehow preserve his sprinter’s speed by drafting in the pack, his untouchable speed may make the last 30 seconds of the race very interesting.

Complexity is added to this year’s event with the inclusion of two of the world’s strongest professional marathoners, FINA open water world champions Evgueni Bezroutchenko and Alexei Akatiev, both of Russia. They have significantly more open water experience than the Olympians, and it’s likely that strategy – not raw swimming ability – will determine the outcome.

Rounding out the men’s field will be U.S. open water stars, John Flanagan (Auburn, 1997) and Mark Leonard (Eastern Michigan, 2000).

In particular, the 6’ 5” Leonard is someone to watch, if for no other reason than he’s the darkhorse. In last year’s race, Leonard started late, caught the pack, clawed into the lead and appeared certain of victory. Then he made a minute directional mistake that cost approximately six feet. In monetary terms, that error cost more like $8,000, for in those two seconds Neethling surged ahead and won the race. Leonard was runner-up.

The women’s competition is thinner, but equally exciting. American Cristina Teuscher, the classy Ivy League Olympic gold and bronze medalist, is scheduled to defend her 2001 title, but she will be the underdog. Why? Three-time Olympic gold medalist Brooke Bennett, one of swimming’s permanent legends, will seek revenge after finishing third in 2001 (American Lindsay Benko was runner-up). Jessica Foschi is also racing, as is the grand dame of open water and Masters swimming, 44-year-old Suzanne Heim-Bowen.

Race-day entry is still available ($175). For more information, visit: http://www.rcptiburonmile.com/

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P.H. Mullen is author of Gold in the Water. Visit www.goldinthewater.com.

Proceeds from the event benefit northern California Special Olympics.

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