FUKUOKA, Japan, July 21. ITALY'S Viola Valli overcame strong currents and a jellyfish sting to win her second gold medal of the FINA World Championships with victory in the women's 25K open water race today.
Earlier, in the men's race, Russian favorite Yuri Koudinov put on a sprint in the final 1500 meters in Fukuoka's Hakata Bay that none of his rivals could match, to win going away.
The wins by Valli and Koudinov gave Europeans a complete lock on all the open water events. Europeans won all 18 medals up for grabs.
Valli, 29, who won last Monday's 5K race on the opening day of the championships, pulled away from Dutchwoman Edith van Dijk over the final three kilometers to cross the finish line at Momochihama Beach in five hours, 56 minutes and 51 seconds, the only woman to break six hours.
Van Dijk, the early pace-setter, finished 250 meters in arrears, as she settled for the silver medal in a time of 6:00:36 with Germany's Angela Maurer taking the bronze medal another six minutes back.
Halfway through the race, only four seconds separated the four women in the leaad pack, with van Dijk one second ahead of Maurer, two ahead of Valli and four ahead of Germany's Angela Maurer.
In her best international performance ever, the USA's Briley Bergen, 17, finished sixth in 6:20:07. The US placed a second swimmer in the top 10 when Tiffany Sawin grabbed the #10 spot in 6:44:12.
"Just after halfway I had to stop for about 30 seconds to get this jellyfish off my neck. I thought I was out of it, but luckily I began to feel stronger over the last two kilometers," said Valli.
The silver medalist at last year's inaugural World Open Water Championships in Honolulu said that she had found the waves and currents difficult over the second half of the race.
"I wanted increase the tempo progressively, but everyone went out quick so I had to change tactics. That's why I found it hard to cope with the waves coming back," she said.
Van Dijk, who finished third in Wednesday's 10K race, also admitted she had struggled over the return leg after completing the U-turn at the far side of Nokono Island.
"I took a shortcut on the current in the first half, but coming back was definitely tougher against the current," she said.
Koudinov, who also won the 25K gold at last year's First Open Water World Championships in Hawaii, used the same tactic as valli, staying with the lead pack until the final 1500 meters, then surging ahead to win in 5:25:32.
Frenchmen Stephane Gomez and Stephane Lecat took silver and bronze respectively after challenging Koudinov in a three-way battle over the final five kilometers.
"It feels amazing to win the gold medal, but to tell you the truth I'm too exhausted to speak right now," said Koudinov, who followed Russian team mate Yevgeny Bezruchenko's victory in the 10 kilometre race on Wednesday.
Gomez finished 40 meters behind the Russian in 5:26:00, while Lecat clocked 5:26:36 after tiring over the last half mile.
"It's great for France to get two medals here. It's a triumph for our preparation and teamwork during the race," said Gomez.
The USA's Mark Leonard, who led at the halfway mark, was a strong sixth (5:31:53) while John Kenny finished twelfth (5:39;26).
Thirteen swimmers made the turn at the 12.5K mark within 50 seconds of each other, with Leonard the leader (2:39:48), followed by Lecat (2:39:53) and Germany's Christof Wandratsch (2:39:56). Seven more swimmers, including Koudinov, made the turn between 2:40:00 and 2:40:07.
OPEN WATER SWIMMING
Name 12.5K 25K
1 Yuri KOUDINOV, RUS 2:40:04 5:25:32
2 Stephane GOMEZ, FRA 2:40:01 5:26:00
3 Stephane LECAT, FRA 2:39:53 5:26:36
4 Fabio FUSI, ITA 2:40:00 5:28:16
5 Mark SALIBA, AUS 2:40:05 5:29:17
6 Mark LEONARD, USA 2:39:48 5:31:53
7 Christof WANDRATSCH, GER 2:39:56 5:33:36
8 Andres PEREZ GONZALEZ, CUB 2:40:26 5:34:37
9 Miodrag VASIC, YUG 2:40:07 5:35:22
10 Anron SANATCHEV, RUS 2:40:06 5:36:21
11 Liam WESELOH, CAN 2:40:23 5:37:53
12 John KENNY, USA 2:40:03 5:39:26
13 Mace MAJCEN, SLO 2:40:40 5:40:24
14 Pavel SRB, CZE 2:41:16 5:42:49
15 Hiroki HIKIDA, JPN 2:42:27 5:44:15
16 Rostislav VITEK, CZE 2:40:37 5:48:16
OPEN WATER SWIMMING
1 Viola VALLI, ITA 2:58:47 5:56:51
2 Edith VAN DIJK, NED 2:58:45 6:00:36
3 Angela MAURER, GER 2:58:46 6:06:19
4 Britta KAMRAU, GER 2:58:49 6:08:46
5 Natalia PANKINA, RUS 3:02:21 6:14:26
6 Briley BERGEN, USA 3:03:24 6:20:07
7 Alessandra ROMITI, ITA 3:04:23 6:35:14
8 Yvetta HLAVACOVA, CZE 3:13:45 6:36:22
9 Shelley CLARK, AUS 3:09:00 6:41:16
10 Tiffany SAWIN, USA 3:14:22 6:44:12
11 Yuki FUKUDA, JPN 3:15:56 7:07:22