By Kurt Hanson
LAKE ORR, Gold Coast, Australia, April 22. CAMPBELLTOWN'S Mark Saliba capped off his most successful Telstra Australian Open Water Swimming championships after winning a record fourth consecutive 25-kilometre title on Lake Orr today.
The 22-year-old Saliba clocked a time of 5 hours 30 minutes and 59 seconds to win the men's race ahead of Josh Santacaterina (Nepean, NSW), who touched the board in 6 hours and four seconds to take the silver.
The Australian women's championship went to Australian Swimming's marathon queen Shelley Clark of the Gosford Stingrays who clocked 6 hours 15 minutes and 9 seconds.
Cassie Robinson of Western Australia finished in second place in 6 hours 33 minutes and 39 seconds, with Kristina Jenkins (Sydney Aquatic Centre Seals, NSW) 6:52.40 third.
Saliba's victory followed his win in the 10km event yesterday and his close-up silver behind Grant Cleland in the 5km event on day one.
It was Saliba who dictated the proceedings in perfect condition, setting a solid pace from the outset before settling down over the later stages for a comfortable win.
The pair were the only two men to complete the course, typifying the mental and physical toughness competitors displayed throughput the day, with Wilkinson pair Stephen Hunt and Deke Zimmerman both withdrawing at the 20km mark.
Championship winners Mark Saliba, Grant Cleland, Trudee Hutchinson and Shelley Clark have all confirmed their places on the Telstra Dolphins Australian Open Water team for this year's World Championships in Egypt and Pan Pacific Championships in Montreal.
Saliba, who has his sights set on a world championship medal this year said after his win: "The comfortable conditions helped me out today, but I will be looking forward to some better racing come the World and Pan Pacific Championships.
The move from short course to long course in the training pool with coach Alan Thompson along with the addition of a new weights program at the New South Wales Institute of Sport was a strong factor in the 22-year-old's success at this meet.
Along with father and handler, John and the financial support of local Campbelltown solicitor, John Marsden, who has funded Saliba's up-and-coming World Cup tour to China and Hong Kong, the swimmer who hails from Glen Alpine in Sydney's west looks to have a great future on the highly competitive international scene.
Previously Mark has been one of Australia's top international performers in the open water having finished 5th in the FINA World Swimming Champions 25km race last year in Japan.
A 9th placing at the inaugural FINA World Open Water Championships held at Hawaii in 2000 has shown that Saliba is improving and maturing with age, edging his way closer to his European rivals.
In the women's event it was Clark who claimed her third consecutive 25km national crown comfortably in near perfect racing conditions holding a pace similar to the men for most of the race.
"I felt alright for the first 21km, but really hurt the rest of the way," Clark said.
"It was my most important goal to make this team, and I will focus on the World Champs and Pan Pacs with a heavy program of international races."
Clark and Saliba will both head to Hong Kong and China to contest the World Cup events before the Pan Pacific Championships in Montreal, Canada starting August.
RESULTS: TELSTRA AUSTRALIAN OPEN WATER CHAMPONSHIPS
25KM: Men: M Saliba (Campbelltown, NSW) 5 hours 30 minutes and 59 seconds 1, Josh Santacaterina (Nepean, NSW) 2.
Women: S Clark (Gosford Stingrays, NSW) 6 hours 15 minutes and 9 seconds 1. C Robinson (Victoria Park, WA) 2, K Jenkins (Sydney Aquatic Centre Seals, NSW) 3.