Wednesday, March 21. 2007
Date: Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Location: St. Kilda Beach, Melbourne
Theme: Pack Swimming at the Highest Levels
Written by Steve Munatones
The very close and exciting men’s 10K was a very interesting race. For the following reasons, the strategies of the 10K are evolving leading up to the Olympic year:
The lead group included at least 35 swimmers in a tight pack swimming stroke-for-stroke over the first 7.5K. The quality and quantity of men capable of hanging with the world’s best open water swimmers is increasing.
The pace of the first half of the race was fast. Although the conditions were not exactly the same, the American men had a faster time on the first half of their 10K than they did for their 5K race earlier in the week. Given all the physical contact throughout the race, the American swimmers were ideally positioned, sitting somewhere between 2nd and 6th place throughout the first 8K.
53 men started the race by diving from a floating pontoon without problems and on time. America’s Sid Cassidy, as the starter and head of the FINA Open Water Technical Committee, has been doing an excellent job as the starter under the new starting system.
While the American men got a great start and moved to the front of the pack in order to minimize physical contact, breaststroke was the favored stroke of 3 swimmers. These breaststrokers were among the 10 swimmers who did not finish.
The Port Philip Blue Blubbers were in full force, waiting and lurking just under the water’s surface, for the men. The menacing Blue Blubbers (photo to follow) generally float 1-2 feet under the surface of the water, with their harmless heads sticking up towards the surface. However, like the women’s race the day before, when the pack swam over a pod of jellyfish, the Blue Blubbers flip over due to the turbulence. This causes their white thick tentacles to face upwards towards the swimmers. Needless to say, like their female counterparts, the men were stung mercilessly on all parts of their body.
Relatively few men were able to feed off of one of the feeding pontoons due to the great number of swimmers were came in together. Most feeds were missed due to the swimmer’s distance from the pontoon or flailing arms of other competitors inadvertently hitting feeding sticks. The American men missed all of their feedings that were planned on the 2nd and 3rd loops, where a large majority of other swimmers also tried to feed. Observers on the feeding pontoons called the scene something similar to throwing a bloody steak into a pool of hungry sharks. One of the Dutch swimmers, 6’-8” Martin Van Der Weijden, swam at the very back of the lead pack of 35 swimmers and took a relatively leisurely feeding on every loop. He had sufficient fuel in his tank to storm past his competition on the last loop to take 6th overall.
The eventual winner, Russian Vladimir Dyatchin, sprinted out between the 7.5K and 8K mark to temporarily lead the group. He flipped over on his back and completely downed a gel pack. After finishing the gel pack, he settled in third behind Thomas Lurz, the defending champion, race favorite and 5K gold medalist. This move turned out to be one of the key factors to his victory.
When Vladimir surrendered the lead at the 8K mark, Germany’s Lurz unexpectedly found himself in first. Like a cyclist who wants someone else to pull the pack, Lurz started to swim in wide “S” lines in order to encourage others to take the lead. The entire train refused to do so and everyone in the top group started to navigate in wide “S” paths. As Lurz was closing in on the last feeding pontoon, he headed straight for the middle of the pontoon. Only several meters before the pontoon, he swerved and just barely grazed the feeding pontoon. This move helped him shaved off several valuable seconds and put some distance between him and others.
The pace on the last 2K was tremendous, but unfortunately, our American men were not able to hold on. Mark took 20th and Scott took 33rd. They both have one more race – the 25K – on Sunday to complete the hardest and longest schedule of all the American swimmers in Melbourne – an incredible total of 40 kilometers.
Mohammed Zanaty, the top Egyptian swimmers who is trained by a Russian coach, finished fourth. His federation required a top 8 finish in order to continue funding his coaching.
The finish was another classic open water finish in which Russian Dyatchin out-touched Lurz 1:55:32.52 to 1:55:32.58. Like many races, the crowd was yelling and cheering the leaders to the end. But, even after the finish, no one knew exactly what the final placing was. It took a long time to confirm the final results.
Another Russian finished third. The Russian are planning to do another 3 FINA Open Water Grand Prix races before the first Olympic qualifying race in Seville in April 2008.
Interesting note of the day: Word in the open water community has it that nearly 170 swimmers will be entered in the Seville qualifying race. If true, with this number of swimmers, safety must be on the forefront of the race organizers. Some discussions are floating around about some kind of qualifying swims – but these details are to be worked out.
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