Olympics: Florian Wellbrock Dominates Last Lap of 10K to Secure Open Water Olympic Gold by 25 Seconds

Aug 5, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Florian Wellbrock (GER) wears his gold medal after the men's 10km marathon swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports
Germany's Florian Wellbrock after he was awarded the gold medal the men's 10K open water swim at the Tokyo Olympics -- Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Sports

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Olympics: Florian Wellbrock Dominates Last Lap of 10K to Secure Open Water Olympic Gold by 25 Seconds

Twice during the pool in the Tokyo Olympics, Germany’s Florian Wellbrock held significant lead in an Olympic final with 50 meters to go, only for rivals to overtake him down the stretch. That was not going to happen in the open water as 26 men gathered at Odaiba Marine Park for the men’s 10K. Wellbrock went out hard and held the lead for most of the race, only briefly surrendering the lead to France’s Marc-Antoine Olivier. After a pack of about six swimmers were close heading into the last of seven laps of the course, but Wellbrock just annihilated the field at that point and pulled away to win gold.

Aug 5, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Florian Wellbrock (GER) competes in the men's 10km marathon swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Florian Wellbrock competing in the 10K — Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Sports

Wellbrock finished in 1:48:33.7, winning by 25 seconds. The only race was for silver as Hungary’s Kristof Rasovszky edged out Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri by just over two seconds, 1:48:59.0 to 1:49:01.1.

After the race, Wellbrock claimed that his biggest obstacle was not any of the other 25 swimmers in the race but rather the extremely warm temperatures in Tokyo Bay. The event was conducted in water around 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

“The first 7km was really easy,” Wellbrock said. “The water wasn’t really warm, so then I keep up the pace, and the last leg was horrible. The temperature today was the biggest competitor. I beat it and I beat everything in this race.”

Wellbrock, 23, was the world champion in this event in 2019, and he also won gold in the 1500 freestyle in the pool at that meet, but a pair of rough finishes in the pool proceeded this open water outing. In the 800 free, Wellbrock saw the United States’ Bobby Finke, Paltrinieri and Ukraine’s Mykhailo Romanchuk all swim ahead of him on the last length of the 800 free as he ended up a disappointing fourth. Three days later in the 1500, Wellbrock led by a massive seven tenths at the last turn before Finke stormed by him and then Romanchuk also snuck ahead of his German rival at the finish. Wellbrock earned bronze in that race, his first Olympic medal, but five days later, he had too big a lead in open water for anyone to have a shot about running him down.

After touching the wall first, Wellbrock needed a few moments to process all the emotions. “I need five minutes to realise what happened today. Crazy. Really,” he said.

Even after leading for so long and having no others to draft off of, Wellbrock had kept his stroke so smooth and efficient that he was able to shift his tempo and his kick into another gear down the final 1000 meters.

Aug 5, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Florian Wellbrock (GER) celebrates winning the men's 10km marathon swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Florian Wellbrock celebrates his win in the men’s 10K — Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar/USA Today Sports

With the win, Wellbrock became just the third male swimmer to earn Olympic medals in both the pool and open water following his 1500 free bronze five days earlier. When Paltrinieri touched for bronze, he became the fourth man on the list, with his 800 free silver from Tokyo and his 1500 free gold from the 2016 Games. The other two are Great Britain’s David Davies, who took bronze in the 1500 free in 2004 and then silver in the 10K in 2008 and Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli, the 1500 free Olympic gold medalist in 2008 and then the 10K gold medalist and 1500 free bronze medalist in 2012.

Wellbrock also became the second German to win a medal in the 10K, being held in the Olympics for just the fourth time after making its debut at the 2012 London Games, but he was the first to win gold. Previously, Thomas Lurz won bronze in 2008 and silver in 2012.

The Race Behind Wellbrock

It was during the thee middle portion of the race, when Wellbrock was leading a pack of three that included Olivier and Rasovszky, that Paltrinieri clawed his way back into the race, and eventually, so did Greece’s Athanasios Kynigakis and Israel’s Matan Roditi. But the distance opened up between the competitors over the last two kilometers as Wellbrock pulled away. Rasovszky tried to do the same, although Paltrinieri managed to stick with him, leaving the silver medal in doubt until just before the finishing shoot.

Aug 5, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; From left Kristof Rasovszky (HUN), Floridan Wellbrock (GER) and Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA) on the podium after the men's 10km marathon swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

The men’s 10K medalists, Hungary’s Kristof Rasovszky (left), Germany’s Florian Wellbrock & Italy’s Gregorio Palterinieri — Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar/USA Today Sports

“I’m really happy. I came here to win a medal and it’s a silver now. I’m really happy. Florian was unbeatable today, so in the last lap he was much faster than everyone else, and I saw in the last 500 meters, Gregorio as coming. I tried to push harder but I had no more speed, so I tried to be before him and make it impossible to get before me. And I managed,” Rasovszky said. “This is the second medal for us in open water swimming after (Hungary’s Eva) Risztov won a gold medal in 2012 in London. I tried to be the second to win a gold medal but a silver medal is also awesome.”

Paltrinieri, meanwhile, did not have a perfect Olympics, particularly in the pool after his attempted defense of his 1500 free gold medal ended up with a fourth-place finish. But after dealing with a bout mononucleosis in June and missing time in training, which Paltrinieri called “a tough two months here,” he admitted he was very happy to qualify for the podium after a tough, hot race.

“It means a lot because this is my first Olympics in open water, and I’ve been putting myself in a position mentally to try and focus on the open water more and more in these last two, three, four years. That was the goal, to come here and get on the podium,” Paltrinieri said. “I didn’t arrive here in the best condition because of an infection that I had the last month, so I knew it was pretty tough for me to compete with these guys. But I’m on the podium so that’s all right.”

While racing to decide silver and bronze, Rasovszky and Paltrinieri ended up pulling away from Roditi and Kynigakis and finishing 24 seconds ahead of fourth place. Roditi touched the pad in 1:49:24.9 for fourth, and Kynigakis was fifth in 1:49:29.2.

Likely thanks to the excessively warm water that forced two of the 26 participants to withdraw, swimmers were so drained over the last length that they could not maintain the blistering pace. Olivier, among the leaders for the first six laps, ended up almost two minutes behind Wellbrock as he touched sixth in 1:50:23.0. Olivier was the bronze medalist in Rio five years ago, and the winner that day, the Netherlands’ Ferry Weertman, took seventh in 1:51:30.8, more than a minute behind Olivier.

Weertman led a small pack of four swimmers to the finish. South Africa’s Michael McGlynn (1:51:32.7) and Canada’s Hau-Li Fan (1:51:37.0) were eighth and ninth, respectively. The only swimmer from the United States in the field, Jordan Wilimovsky, touched 10th in 1:51:40.2, more than three minutes behind the gold-medal winning time. Wilimovsky took fifth in the event in Rio and was the world champion in the event 2015.

Aug 5, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Oussama Mellouli (TUN) competes in the men's 10km marathon swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Tunisia’s Ous Mellouli competing in the 10K — Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Sports

Wellbrock’s German teammate Rob Muffels, among the leaders early in the race and the bronze medalist at the 2019 World Championships, was 11th but more than a minute and 20 seconds behind Wilimovsky, his final time 1:53:03.3. Meanwhile, 2012 gold medalist Ous Mellouli of Tunisia, 37, was 20th in 1:56:33.3 after deciding not to swim the race just two weeks beforehand following a dispute with his national federation and then changing his mind and deciding to compete. Mellouli was competing in his sixth Olympic Games, and in the pool, he won gold in the 1500 free in 2008 and bronze in 2012.

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