2022’s Open Water Highlights: Florian Wellbrock Shines Beyond the Pool

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2022’s Open Water Highlights: Florian Wellbrock Shines Beyond the Pool

As open water swimming continues to grow and return to normalcy after the pandemic, there have been plenty of exciting stories. Here is a look at some of the best and most interesting open water moments during 2022.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: MIXED 6K RELAY (June 26)

The mixed 6K relay featured two women and two men from each country swimming three 500-meter loops. As expected, this race produced an exciting, back-and-forth battle, but it was some of the stars of men’s open water who pulled their teams onto the medal stand on the anchor leg, with Germany’s Florian Wellbrock outpacing the field to secure gold.

Germany had the lead at the halfway point after Lea Boy and Oliver Klemet had concluded their legs, but by the end of the third leg, Hungary’s David Betlehem had passed German Leonie Beck to give his country the lead, although Italy, France and Germany were all within 8.2 seconds of Hungary.

That meant a final-leg battle among four men who had all won 10K Olympic medals: Hungary’s Kristof Rasovszky, Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri, France’s Marc-Antoine Olivier and Wellbrock.

With one 500-meter lap to go, Paltrinieri led by 4-tenths over Rasovszky, with Wellbrock 8-tenths farther behind. But the German showed off his outstanding finishing speed to pull himself into the lead, and touched first with a final time of 1:04:40.5 to secure gold. Both Rasovszky and Paltrinieri hit the pad in 1:04:43.0, but a photo finish gave the silver medal to Hungary and bronze to Italy. France ended up fourth in 1:04:56.4.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: 5K (June 27)

Germany’s Florian Wellbrock outswam a pair of familiar rivals from the pool when he won the men’s 5K gold medal over Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri and Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk.

Romanchuk, who was racing in open water at a major competition for the first time, led for much of the early portion of the race, but he could not keep pace with Paltrinieri and Wellbrock over the final kilometer. Wellbrock finished in 52:48.8, less than four seconds clear of Paltrinieri’s 52:52.7. Romanchuk ended up with the bronze (53:13.9), more than 20 seconds behind Paltrinieri.

The medal was Wellbrock’s third individual gold in open water at a major competition along with previous medals in the 10K from the 2019 World Championships and 2021 Olympics.

Ana de JESUS SOARES da CUNHA BRA Open Water Swimming Women’s 5km FINA 19th World Championships Budapest 2022 Budapest, Lupa Lake 27/06/22 Photo Giorgio Perottino / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

Photo Courtesy: Giorgio Perottino / Deepbluemedia / Insidefoto

In the women’s competition, 30-year-old Brazilian Ana Marcela Cunha repeated as gold medalist in a tight race with France’s Aurelie Muller. At the previous World Championships in 2019 at Gwangju, Cunha won by one second. This time, the margin of victory was 9-tenths, 57:52.9 to 57:53.8.

Finishing third was Italy’s Giulia Gabbrielleschi in 57:54.9.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: 10K (June 29)

Gregorio Paltrinieri, who two days earlier claimed silver in the 5K, won the 10K crown at Hungary’s Lake Lupa to become the second man to secure the pool (1500 meter freestyle, June 25, at the Duna Arena in Budapest) and open water double at the World Championships.

The 27-year-old swam the second-fastest 1500 free in history (14:32.80 European record) and came from behind in the 10K to get his hand on the board first in 1:50:56.8. Domenico Acerenza made it an Italian 1-2 finish in 1:50.58.2, with Germany’s Florian Wellbrock—the first man to win the 10K-1500 double in Gwangju three years ago—taking third in 1:51:11.2.

That followed a dramatic women’s race in which the Netherlands’ Sharon van Rouwendaal won the women’s 10K by a half-second (2:02:29.2 to 2:02:29.7 over Germany’s Leonie Beck) to claim her first world title in the event. Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha—the 5K and 25K women’s champion—touched a second later (2:02.30.7) to capture the bronze medal.

Van Rouwendaal has now won every 10K title available to her: Olympic gold at Rio 2016, European titles between 2014-20 and now the world title after silver at Kazan 2015.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: 25K (June 30)

After swimming 15-and-a-half miles in Hungary’s Lake Lupa near the border of Budapest and close to the Danube River, the top three women’s 25K open water swimmers all finished with a time of 5 hours, 24 minutes 15 seconds. Only 3-tenths of a second separated the medalists, with Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha claiming gold in 5:24:15.0, followed by Germany’s Lea Boy (2-tenths behind) and the Netherlands’ Sharon van Rouwendaal (another 1-tenth behind Boy)!

The men’s 25K was close, too, as Italy’s Dario Verani won by 1.2 seconds with a time of 5:02:21.5 over France’s Axel Reymond. Hungary’s Peter Galicz finished about 13 seconds behind the leader for the bronze medal (15:02:34.4).

BROTHERS SWIM IN 50 STATES IN 25 DAYS (July 20-Aug. 14)

The Swim Brothers, Joe and John Zemaitis, completed an unprecedented marathon swim tour across America, swimming at least 10 kilometers in all 50 states in 25 days. Their effort raised more than $10,000 for the USA Swimming Foundation in an effort to promote water safety and drowning prevention, and to provide access to open water swimming across the country.

John and Joe Zemaitis

Photo Courtesy: Mike Brown

The adventure started in Hawaii. From there, they flew to Big Lake in Anchorage, Alaska, then embarked on an RV trip across the continental U.S., beginning in Nevada, then California, moving up the West coast and across the northern United States, followed by a journey down the East coast, then across the South and Midwest, and ending up in their home state of Arizona in mid-August, which just happened to be Drowning Impact Awareness Month.

“For thirty-five years I’ve been involved with USA Swimming as a swimmer and as a coach,” Joe Zemaitis said in a press release. “To partner with the USA Swimming Foundation to spread the message of Saving Lives and Building Champions as we (went) across the United States swimming a marathon in all 50 states (was) the trip of a lifetime.

“For nearly 20 years, I’ve been challenging swimmers I coach in Arizona at Swim Neptune to set challenging goals, train hard and fearlessly pursue their dreams.” The Zemaitis brothers were able to have the chance to do just that with their amazing adventure.

SEAN NUTTALL SWIMS ACROSS LAKE ONTARIO AND BACK (Aug. 12)

Open water swimmers have crossed some of America’s Great Lakes in the past, some as individuals and others with a group relay.
Sean Nuttall took the next step and swam across Lake Ontario—and back—in a 100-kilometer swim from Toronto to St. Catherines and back.

The marathon round-trip crossing took 42 hours.

Nuttall completed the swim to raise money for brain research at the University of Toronto. The school’s Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases does scientific research on debilitating brain disorders.

“This cause is incredibly personal for me,” Nuttall told the Toronto Sun. “My father, a criminal defense lawyer in Toronto, passed away five years ago this August after an extremely brief struggle with an unidentified neurodegenerative disease. In November 2016, he completed a complex jury trial. By February 2017, just three months later, he was in emergency care in a psychiatric ward. By May, he had largely lost the ability to talk, and by August, he was gone.

“With few treatment options, all my family and I could do during this nightmarish time was watch, try to adjust to each heartbreaking new phase, and offer him and each other what little comfort we could.”

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