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By Steven Munatones, Swimming World Open Water correspondent
LONG BEACH, California, August 22. THROUGHOUT the first four days of the Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, the American team largely dominated the competition in the pool. The results were similar on the last day of the Pan Pacs – albeit in a new venue in the salt-water Marine Stadium in Long Beach.
Christine Jennings and Chip Peterson won the 10K marathon swim titles in the glassy flat waters of the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics rowing basin, each out-sprinting an American rival to take gold.
In the women's race, Jennings nestled herself in the midst of her American teammates and Australian Melissa Gorman who was trying to pull off a double after her gold medal performance in the 1500-meter freestyle last night. While the men took it out slowly and gradually built the entire 10K, the women's pace was relentless and remained constant, pushing each other as the top eight women challenged each other to keep up the furious pace.
Jennings' five 2K splits were 23:48, 23:58, 23:47, 24:33 and 24:27, a strong indication that the lead pack of women, pulled along by the New Hampshire dynamo Eva Fabian, went for it from the start. Each of the women behind Fabian were bidding their time to bolt in the lead, but with the furious pace, tactics played second-fiddle to pure endurance. Typically physical, the nature of the women's pack changed mid-race after Olympian Chloe Sutton, the pre-race favorite, was disqualified for two separate infractions around the turn buoys. Once Sutton was red-carded, Jennings knew her positioning and race tactics became even more critical.
As the top pack of eight swam past the last feeding station with one kilometer to go, only Jennings took a swig of hydration from her coach on the floating pontoon. Her patience paid off over the last stretch. With 600 meters to go and one last turn buoy to navigate, Gorman had pulled up with Fabian and was inching into the lead when Jennings and Emily Brunemann moved right on their heels. The pack swung around the last turn buoy fast as they began a flat-out 500-meter sprint to the finish.
Jennings' move came fast as she swam alongside Gorman and Fabian and then quickly shifted to a higher gear that her competitors could not match. Fabian hung on as it soon became a two-woman race for the gold. With 200 meters to go, Jennings had a body-length lead that she was not about to give up. She showed the savvy tactics of a racer as she veered left, then right, then back left again, trying to shake Fabian following in her wake.
Jennings touched in 2:00:33.8 with Fabian nipping at her toes finishing 1.9 seconds later. Her victory, along with her earlier second-place finish at the USA Swimming National Open Water Swimming Championships took some pressure off her back and allows her to focus on what she loves.
"I was to the point where if I didn't qualify first or second [at the USA Swimming Nationals] to get some stipend money from USA Swimming, I probably would have had to quit swimming. And I love swimming. It's a passion," Jennings said.
On the men's side in the pool, the Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte rivalry had captured the attention of the chlorinated crowd – with Lochte gaining the upper hand at Pan Pacs. Similarly, Chip Peterson and Fran Crippen have been going back-and-forth with each other for some time with Crippen having the upper hand until most recently.
Training under the tutelage of renowned coach Jon Urbanchek at FAST, Peterson showed the patience, intelligence, endurance and speed that powered him to the 2005 world 10K championship.
Unlike the women, the men started the race in a particularly slow pace. Out in a 24 minute 3 second first 2K loop, the men seemed content to swim patiently exchanging leaders. But Peterson was experienced in swimming slowly in cool water – and he was having none of that in Long Beach.
"I was getting a little cold and noticed where all the other guys were, so I took off," Peterson said.
And so he did, mid-race as he opened up a quick 20-meter lead by shifting his stroke-per-minute tempo from 72 to 84 in a matter of a few seconds. Crippen quickly picked up on this and gave chase. It took Crippen more than one kilometer to close the gap on Peterson, but by that time, the two Americans had stretched out the field and created a dramatically different scenario with only Richard Weinberger of Canada, Allan do Carmo of Brazil, Arthur Frayler and Ivan Enderica of Ecuador within shouting distance.
The men' winner, Chip Peterson, in contrast went 24:03, 23:11, 23:01, 23:04 and 22:41.
Peterson continued to push the pace until the last 2K loop when he purposefully slowed to let Weinberger pull alongside and take the lead. As Peterson suddenly downshifted and slipped within Weinberger's wake, Weinberger found himself in the lead. Crippen pulled up with Peterson and the pair were content to let Weinberger take control of the race until the last 200 meters. Peterson's tactic also allowed Brazil's do Carmo, a 2008 Olympian, to inch up to the leaders. By the last turn buoy, the 10K became a four-man sprint to the finish.
With 300 meters to go, Crippen and Peterson had sandwiched Weinberger in the middle as the three men swam shoulder-to-shoulder with Allan hanging off the back. At 150 meters to go, Crippen surged to a half-body lead – the same move he did at the USA Swimming national championships where he beat Peterson. But, this time Peterson had one more gear left as he had not yet gone to his trademark 8-beat kick. In a flash, Peterson shifted to his legs and bolted past Crippen. Within 50 meters, Chip went from being half a body behind to a one-body length lead that he sustained to the finish.
With less than a year to the first Olympic 10K Marathon Swim qualifier, Peterson is making his moves at the right time.
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