FINA World Open Water Championships: Dreams Come True

By Steven Munatones, Swimming World Special Correspondent

SEVILLE, Spain, May 5. STEVEN Munatones has been a busy man for us over in Seville at the FINA World Open Water Championships. Here is his latest batch of updates from the scene, including results.

The Olympic dreams for 14 open water swimmers were realized today. With an unrelenting pace right from the start, the field of 51 swimmers pushed each other until the end.

Larisa Ilchenko of Russia did was she does best. For 9.8K, Larisa hung off the feet of Cassandra Patten of Great Britain until she went into her typical overdrive and won in 2:02:02.7, 3.1 seconds ahead of silver medalist Patten and 4.5 seconds over Yurema Requena of Spain.

But the swim to remember had to be the courageous swim of Natalie du Toit of South Africa who was just touched out for the bronze. From the halfway point on, du Toit fought through the pack of 35 swimmers to bounce around between 4th and 8th as the lead pack surged, pushing ahead harder and harder on each lap. After du Toit finished, she swam to the dock and was handed her prosthetic leg, climbed out of the water and hugged her coach saying, "My dream has finally come through!"

The top ten finishers all earned a guaranteed spot in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim. Additionally, the top 4 continental finishers earned a spot. These included Edith van Dijk of the Netherlands and the European continent who placed 11th overall, Yanqiao Fang of China and Asia who placed 12th overall, Andreina Pinto of Venezuela and the Americas who placed 17th overall, and Melissa Gorman of Australia and Oceania who placed 25th overall. Other than du Toit, there were no other entrants from Africa, so the African continent did not qualify a swimmer.

This leaves 11 available spots open for the second Olympic 10K Marathon Swim qualifier in Beijing on May 31st. This means the top 11 finishers in the Beijing qualifier will round out the field at the Olympics, but there is only allowed one qualifier per country.

Women's 10K results
Larisa Ilchenko (Russia): 2 hours 2 minutes and 2.7 seconds – qualified for Beijing
Cassandra Patten (Great Britain): 2:02:05.8 (3.1 seconds behind the gold medalist) – qualified for Beijing
Yurema Requena (Spain): 2:02:07.2 (4.5 seconds behind) – qualified for Beijing
Natalie du Toit (South Africa): 2:02:07.8 (5.1 seconds behind) – qualified for Beijing
Jana Pechanova (Czech Republic): 2:01:12.6 (9.9 seconds behind) – qualified for Beijing
Poliana Okimoto (Brazil): 2:02:13.5 (10.8 seconds behind) – qualified for Beijing
Angela Maurer (Germany): 2:02:13.6 (10.9 seconds behind) – qualified for Beijing
Keri-Ann Payne (Great Britain): 2:02:14.1 (11.4 seconds behind) – qualified for Beijing
Aurelie Muller (France): 2:02:14.2 (11.5 seconds behind) – qualified for Beijing
Ana Marcela Cunha (Brazil): 2:02:16.3 (13.6 seconds behind) – qualified for Beijing
Edith van Dijk (Netherlands): 2:02:18.6 (15.9 seconds behind) – qualified for Beijing as top European continental finisher
Yanqiao Fang (China): 2:02:23.3 (20.6 seconds behind) – qualified for Beijing as top Asian continental finisher
Teja Zupan (Slovakia): 2:02:26.1 (23.4 seconds behind)
Alice Franco (Italy): 2:02:27.8 (25.1 seconds behind)
Marianna Lymperta (Greece): 2:02:28.0 (25.3 seconds behind)
Margarita Dominguez (Spain): 2:02:36.6 (33.9 seconds behind)
Andreina Pinto (Venezuela): 2:02:39.8 (37.1 seconds behind) – qualified for Beijing as top Americas continental finisher
Ksenia Popova (Russia): 2:02:51.3 (48.6 seconds behind)
Rita Kovacs (Hungary): 2:02:54.8 (52.1 seconds behind)
Erika Hajnal (Hungary): 2:02:55.1 (52.4 seconds behind)
Kirsten Groome (USA): 2:02:57.3 (54.6 seconds behind)
Imelda Martinez (Mexico): 2:03.11.5 (1:08.8 behind)
Linsy Heister (Netherlands): 2:03:13.2 (1:10.5 behind)
Alejandra Gonzalez (Mexico): 2:03.17.9 (1:15.2 behind)
Melissa Gorman (Australia): 2:03:18.4 (1:15.7 behind) – qualified for Beijing as top Oceania continental finisher
Martina Grimaldi (Italy): 2:02:23.7 (1:21.0 behind)
Olga Beresneva (Israel): 2:03:30.1 (1:27.4 behind)
Eva Berglund (Sweden): 2:01:10.2 (2:07.5 behind)
Yanel Pinto (Venezuela): 2:04:30.1 (2:27.4 behind)
Nataliya Samorodina (Ukraine): 2:04:37.5 (2:34.8 behind)
Micha Burden (USA): 2:04:39.4 (2:36.7 behind)
Karley Stutzel (Canada): 2:04:41.9 (2:39.2 behind)
Kristel Kobrich (Chile): 2:04:43.4 (2:40.7 behind)
Velia Janse van Rensburg (South Africa): 2:04:44.7 (2:42.0 behind)
Xue Li (China): 2:04:59.7 (2:57.0 behind)
Cathy Dietrich (France): 2:04:59.8 (2:57.1 behind)
Nika Kozamernik (Slovakia): 2:05:01.4 (2:58.7 behind)
Karla Sitic (Croatia): 2:05:15.8 (3:13.1 behind)
Britta Kamrau-Corestein (Germany): 2:05:27.8 (3:25.1 behind)
Pilar Geijo (Argentina): 2:06:07.1 (4:04.4 behind)
Antonela Bogarin (Argentina): 2:06:17.9 (4:15.2 behind)
Zsofia Balazs (Canada): 2:08:02.8 (6:00.1 behind)
Brooke Fletcher (Australia): 2:10:24.6 (8:21.9 behind)
Natasha Tang Wing Yung (Hong Kong): 2:14:24.3 (12:21.6 behind)
Daniela Inacio (Portugal): 2:16:47.8 (14:45.1 behind)
Nina Rangelova (Bulgaria): 2:17:02.2 (14:59.5 behind)
Darija Pop (Montenegro): 2:17:29.6 (15:26.9 behind)
Cindy Carolina Toscano (Guam): 2:23:06.7 (21:04.0 behind)
Inha Kotsur (Belaruz): 2:23:26.1 (21:23.4 behind)
Militza Rios (Puerto Rico): 2:23:04.1 (28:01.4 behind)
Swann Oberson (Switzerland): DNF

Fourth Place is Wonderful
"This was the first time to cry after a swim," said Natalie du Toit of South Africa. "I felt good the whole way. It was tough because I would get pushed down and dunked around the turn buoys, but I can't panic."

du Toit, the Paralympian who barely missed out qualifying for pool events for South Africa, finally realized her dream. "This is what I wanted my whole life. Every since I was a little girl of six. Everyone around me has been great and training has been great," said du Toit after the race.

"Swimming is my passion. After my accident, I just have the same dreams and same goals as everyone else. I put in a lot of work over the past five years (after losing her left leg when a car slammed into her motor scooter) and now I will be able to go to both the Olympics and Paralympics.

On the first loop, I was swimming together with everyone in the large group and I had my first feeding at the feeding station. But, when I get dunked by others around the turn buoys, it affects me because my hips go down and I have no kick. In the second half, I moved up to third during the third loop and tried to stay with Larisa (Ilchenko of Russia). It's easy to keep the same stroke when swimming with Larisa because she is so smooth. I had my second juice on the third lap. We started to get faster on the last lap and then the sprint started. The Spanish girl just out-touched me at the end (for third), but I went out and give it everything I had."

Happy and humble. du Toit is going to be some story in Beijing, both as an Olympian and a Paralympian.

Mothers at the Olympics

32-year-old Angela Maurer and 34-year-old Edith van Dijk of the Netherland, both mothers of young children, qualified for the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim.

"I'm so happy. During the last part of the race, I knew I was in the top 10. As we rounded the last buoy, I was sure it was enough (to qualify)," said Maurer after the race. "My child is home in Germany, but the race here was good."

Shelley Taylor-Smith, the Secretary-General of the FINA Technical Open Water Committee and herself a former world champion open water swimmer, was justifiably proud of the two women and the race in general. "This was the fastest and more qualified open water race we've had. The swimmers were prepared to go hard and went for it. They were under pressure to perform with the guaranteed Olympics spots up for grabs."

"It was hard, but I am happy," said van Dijk as she hugged her husband and carried child right after walking from the finish dock to shore. "This was a dream of mine, but after the Olympics, this is it. I'll retire." Van Dijk, one of the most accomplished open water swimmers before getting married and having her first child two years ago.

What is most remarkable of their achievement was the fact that the pace of this entire race as unrelenting. Right from the start, the leaders pushed the pace and there was no let-up over the 2-hour race. After the race, most of the swimmers were barely able to pull themselves out on the finish dock and many laid down flat on the dock for several minutes, faces flushed red due to the exertion.

But, as Maurer and van Dijk clearly know, there will be no let-up before Beijing. They both have one more 10K race left before retirement – at the rowing course in Beijing on August 20.

Strategies for the Men's 10K Olympic Qualifier

Grant Hackett's shadow looms large over the men's 10K field. Yesterday, positions at the start were drawn at random during the pre-race briefing. 55 men will start together with a dive start and have about 900 meters to separate into packs before they hit the first turn buoy.

While the men with the most experience and proven speed are separated at the start, a large lead pack should soon form on the first 2.5K loop given the overall quality of the field. Some coaches are anticipating a very fast race where no one wants to leave anything to chance and the pace is tremendous right from the start. Others believe it will be a very strategic race where everyone keeps an eye out on Grant Hackett and Ky Hurst and will wait until someone makes a move.

Despite Hackett and Hurst's stated strategy to form a drafting tandem that will give them a distinct advantage, it may prove difficult to practically achieve for two reasons. Given the size and quality of the field, it may be difficult for any two teammates of any country to find each other in the midst of a lead pack that can be a large as 30 men over the first two loops. Secondly, the turn angles are extremely sharp. Around such sharp turns, there is always confusion and swimmers often lose position – or gain position as the pack fights around the buoys.

Unlike the Australian's public announcements on their team strategy, the rest of the field is tightlipped about their strategies.

The announced positions of the top contenders are as follows:
Evgeny Drattsev of Russia, position #2
Mark Warkentin of the USA, position #8
David Davies of Great Britain, position #9
Spyridon Gianniotis of Germany, position #13
Ky Hurst of Australia, position #17
Thomas Lurz of Germany, position #19
Simone Ercoli of Italy, position #21
Vladimir Dyatchin of Russia, position #24
Chip Peterson of the USA, position #30
Maarten van der Weijden of the Netherlands, position #32
Grant Hackett of Australia, position #35
Alan Bircher of Great Britain, position #37
Mohamed El-Zanaty of Egypt, position #40
Valerio Cleri of Italy, position #47
Christian Hein of Germany, position #50

Finish area in Seville

Larisa Ilchenko

Larisa Ilchenko (Russia) (center), Cassandra Patten (Great Britain) (left),Yurema Requena (Spain) (right).

Starting dock in Seville.

Chip Peterson (right) talking with Catherine Vogt.