FORT MYERS, Fla, June 4. THOUSANDS took part in the normal Sunday ritual on Fort Myers Beach, enjoying a perfect beach day.
More than 70 of the best open water swimmers in the United States were at the same sight a few hundred yards away in the Gulf of Mexico and the descriptions of the conditions included the words horrible, toughest ever and frustrating.
USA Swimming staged the annual U.S. 10K Open Water National Championships and the pre-race favorites finished l-2 in both the men’s and woman’s divisions to make the American team that will compete for world titles in Barcelona, Spain, in July.
Dan DeMarco, a University of Virginia senior distance swimmer, edged Texas A&M senior Patrick Dideum after 6.2 miles, by l hour, 57 minutes, 45.21 seconds to l:58:09.82.
“The first part of the race was fun when we headed south but coming back it was really rough, bouncy,’’ DeMarco said. “I was moving all over the place, it was easy to get disoriented.’’
Defending 10K champion Erica Rose, a Cleveland native now a junior swimmer at Northwestern, finished two minutes ahead of best friend Briley Bergen of Carbondale, Ill., for the women’s title, with a time of 2:10:17.24.
“This race was not easy, it was frustrating in that I never really knew where I was going,’’ Rose said. “I tried to break away but there was no one to lead me.’’
The top two male and female finishers qualified for the U.S. team that will also include swimmers in the 5K and 25K events. Bergen won the 25K national title a year ago and will also compete in that event in Spain.
The best Southwest Florida finisher was 15-year-old Laura Pacheco, a freshman at Fort Myers High School. Pacheco was fourth behind Molly Jean Vetter of Columbia, Mo.
“This was a great experience, especially considering the competition and the conditions,’’ Pacheco said. “Now I have to use the experience to improve.’’
Despite the rough water conditions that included a 20 mph wind and strong currents against the field during the three-mile swim to the finish, USA Swimming officials were pleased with the course that started at Lynn Hall Park.
“This is a great setting, with everyone watching on the beach, the atmosphere is even better than a year ago at Newport Beach (Calif.),’’ said Dean Ekeren, national events director for USA Swimming.
“The conditions here are nearly the same as what we’ll encounter in 2004 at the worlds in Mexico,’’ Ekeren said. “I think once we finalize the schedule in the fall we may have all three national finals here.’’
Dideum, who finished third in the 2001 World Championships in Japan, said the conditions were good preparation for Barcelona.
“We’ll encounter similar race conditions over there,’’ Dideum said. “Coming back in today was the toughest ever, horrible with the current and winds. But at least I didn’t have any jelly fish bothering me.’’
Rose and Bergen, a Tampa resident who attends Southern Illinois, train together when schedules permit and will represent the U.S. for the third consecutive year.