FINA World Open Water Championships: Touched Out by a Giant of a Man, Maarten van der Weijden, Ksenia Popova Win 25K Titles

By Steven Munatones, Swimming World Special Correspondent

SEVILLE, Spain, May 8. MARK Warkentin learned how difficult it is to touch out a 6 foot 8 inch competitor, especially when the touch pads are elevated a foot above the water surface. Warkentin earned a silver medal in the men's 25K race at the 2008 World Open Water Championships, but he was only 5 tenths from beating Maarten van der Weijden of the Netherlands for gold.

"The men's pace in the beginning was slow," recalled Paul Asmuth, one of the coaches of the USA team in Seville. "Mark was always leading or at least in second or third. Then, the Egyptian Mohamed El-Zanaty (who previously qualified for the Olympic 10K race in Beijing) took off."

In such a tactical race like the 5+ hour 25K race, the pack then naturally followed. No one was going to let anyone else pull away from the pack.

"During the last lap of the 25K course, Petar Stoychev (the English Channel record holder) tried to take off," continued Asmuth. He jumped out to a 10-15 meter lead, but Maarten and Mark worked together to reel him in. They both passed Stoychev with 2K to go."

Yuri Koudinov of Russia, a former 25K world champion, also went around Stoychev. So the "real" race was on as the lead pack dwindled to six men after nearly 5 hours playing cat-and-mouse. As van der Weijden and Warkentin bullied their way into the lead, Koudinov, Stoychev, El-Zanaty and Marco Formentini of Italy closely followed. Warkentin was certainly in a great position to win.

"I always know if I am swimming with experienced swimmers like Maarten or Dyatchin of Russia, then I am in a great position," explained Warkentin.

As is usual, the marathon swim was decided in the final sprint.

"It was very exciting. The race came down to the very end when Maarten just touched out Mark," said Asmuth. "If he was only a bit taller…"

For Warkentin, he had finally earned a spot on the awards podium with his first world championship medal, finishing in 5 hours four minutes and 1.6 seconds to van der Weijden's 5-hour four-minute 1.1-second gold medal swim. Not a bad week in Spain for Warkentin who battled to an automatic Olympic berth in the 10K and a silver-medal finish in the 25K.

Similarly, van der Weijden had a break-out week, earning an Olympic spot in the 10K with a fourth-place finish and his first-ever world championship in the 25K. But, van der Weijden is a giant of a man for more than his open water exploits.

In 2001, he was diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukaemia and had to undergo chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant at the age of 20.

"In Lance Armstrong's book, he talks about fighting the cancer and being desperate to get back on his bike, but I didn't feel like that. I was lying in my hospital bed feeling at peace with which ever way it would go. I didn't think I would ever swim again. After my treatment, I lost 13 kg (28.6 pounds), I couldn't sit, stand or anything. Two weeks after getting out of hospital my mother persuaded me to go swimming again, to enjoy the feeling of being in the water and start to get back into some sort of shape again. I hadn't even thought about a come back at that stage. I would look at my body in the mirror all the time and wonder if I was getting better or whether the cancer would come back, but in the pool I didn't feel any fear that the cancer would come back. I felt relaxed and happy in the water."

In Seville, van der Weijden was certainly happy in the water and looks forward to Beijing. "It will be great. I am looking forward to it."

On the women's side, Russia continued its dominance in the open water world. Ksenia Popova won in a close battle to Edith van Dijk of the Netherland, 5:27:48.2 to 5:27:50.3. Natalya Pankina of Russia finished in third with a time of 5:27:53.9 while Americans Micha Burden and Erica Rose finished 13th and 14th respectively.

After the race, van Dijk, who also qualified for the Olympic 10K, smiled and waved to the crowd with her daughter in her arms. "It's so wonderful to be here. She was waiting for me at the finish."

1 32 VAN DER WEIJDEN Maarten NED 5:04:01.1
2 8 WARKENTIN Mark USA 5:04:01.6 0.5
3 92 KOUDINOV Yuriy RUS 5:04:02.4 1.3
4 54 STOYCHEV Petar BUL 5:04:08.0 6.9
5 40 ABOU EL MAATY MEZ Mohamed ElZanaty EGY 5:04:21.2 20.1
6 78 FORMENTINI Marco ITA 5:04:25.3 24.2
7 7 AZIZ Mazen EGY 5:05:08.7 1:07.6
8 75 CAPELL Brendan AUS 5:06:40.8 2:39.7
9 49 KATZIR Daniel ISR 5:06:45.2 2:44.1
10 48 VITEK Rostislav CZE 5:07:02.6 3:01.5
11 57 SANTACATERINA Josh AUS 5:09:09.7 5:08.6
12 81 SOLOVYEV Dmitry RUS 5:09:32.3 5:31.2
13 79 VOLPINI Andrea ITA 5:09:58.5 5:57.4
14 77 GOMEZ Stephane FRA 5:17:39.2 13:38.1
15 82 KENNY John USA 5:20:22.3 16:21.2
16 76 TOBIN Simon CAN 5:22:58.4 18:57.3
17 62 POSMOURNY Jan CZE 5:39:22.7 35:21.6
18 52 SHKH BAKRI Fouad SYR 5:57:46.8 53:45.7
73 BASTIANI Leonardo Exequiel ARG DNF

1 37 POPOVA Ksenia RUS 5:27:48.2
2 17 VAN DIJK Edith NED 5:27:50.3 2.1
3 89 PANKINA Natalya RUS 5:27:53.9 5.7
4 21 HEISTER Linsy NED 5:28:08.8 20.6
5 53 BROOKESPETERSON Kate AUS 5:28:09.9 21.7
6 60 CADOUR Marilyn FRA 5:28:12.1 23.9
7 71 CLARK Shelley AUS 5:28:22.7 34.5
8 88 LA PIANA Laura ITA 5:29:05.2 1:17.0
9 84 NUÑEZ Esther ESP 5:35:57.5 8:09.3
10 83 MARTINEZ Elena ESP 5:37:51.5 10:03.3
11 85 BRAUN Annegret GER 5:39:02.7 11:14.5
12 87 FREDIANI Camilla ITA 5:39:09.5 11:21.3
13 34 BURDEN Micha USA 5:48:15.5 20:27.3
14 90 ROSE Erica USA 5:49:14.3 21:26.1
15 86 KRIENKE Christina GER 5:51:19.8 23:31.6
16 72 PERREAULT Patricia CAN 5:55:32.0 27:43.8
56 LI Hong CHN DSQ

Edith van Dijk (left) with child.

2008 World Open Water Championships, women's 25k start

2008 Men's 25K Open Water Worlds Podium. Maarten van der Weijden at center.