Friday, April 1, 2011

From Sevilla to London: Open Water

As I write this blog, I am concluding my visit to Spain. I have spent more than a week here and in that time visited many of the most well-known cities, including Sevilla. Sevilla hosted the World Open Water Championships in June, 2008, which served as the main qualifier for the Olympics. The top ten finishers in that 10k race three years ago qualified for the inaugural Olympic open water swim, as well as five “continental champions.” Russia swept the 10k golds in Sevilla; Larisa Ilchenko won the women’s race on her way to Olympic gold, while Vladimir Dyatchin ran down British pool Olympian David Davies for the men’s title. In that men’s race, open water stalwart Thomas Lurz grabbed third, while the race also featured Australian pool star Grant Hackett. Two-time defending 1500 free Olympian champion Hackett received a disqualification.

Among those qualifying on the Río Guadalquivir included American Mark Warkentin, who became America’s first ever Olympian in open water and the first person to qualify for the U.S. swim team for Beijing. Additionally, Warkentin won silver in the 25k in Sevilla, while Chloe Sutton matched his feat in the women’s 5k race. (Sutton did not participate in the 10k race in Sevilla but would later qualify for Beijing at a test event in June, 2008.)

Warkentin went on to finish eighth in Beijing before taking a hiatus from the sport. In September, Warkentin returned to win the Manhattan Island Marathon Swim (MIMS), defeating Bulgarian Petar Stoychev in a dominating performance, and he has begun his charge at a second Olympics. Qualifying for the London Games will take place at this summer’s World Championships in Shanghai. The top two finishers at June’s Open Water Nationals in Fort Myers will earn berths for Shanghai, where they can become Olympians. Warkentin will be one of the favorites, along with two Fullerton-trained athletes: Chip Peterson and Andrew Gemmell.

Like Warkentin, Peterson has been a pioneer for the United States in open water. At the 2005 World Champs in Montreal, Peterson won gold in the 10k. Peterson took second behind Warkentin at U.S. Trials for the Sevilla World Champs, but he finished outside of the top-ten in that race. Afterwards, he took a short hiatus from open water, focusing instead on performing for the University of North Carolina in NCAA competition. In 2010, he left UNC and moved to FAST to train with Jon Urbanchek. This paid off with a second-place finish in the 10k at U.S. Nationals in Long Beach behind the late Fran Crippen. Later that summer, Peterson participated in the World Championships in Roberval, Canada, and the Pan Pacs, also held in Long Beach. In a tight finish, Peterson out-touched Crippen for the win at Pan Pacs. He will seek a second chance for Olympic glory this summer.

Gemmell is yet another pioneer for American open water swimming. After several years locked out of the 10k race internationally, Gemmell broke out at the 2009 World Championships in Rome. He and Crippen challenged favorite Thomas Lurz and ended up finishing 2-3. Gemmell began swimming for the University of Georgia and performed well in NCAA competition. He has finaled in both the 1500 free and 400 IM at Long Course Nationals, and he placed in the top-eight at Pan Pacs in the 1500. At June’s open water National race, Gemmell finished fourth, continuing to show that he will be a major force for the Olympics. He decided to redshirt the 2010-2011 season from Georgia, moving to FAST to train with Urbanchek. Already, Gemmell’s chances look promising; he recently recorded a 15:01 1500 pull with paddles and buoy, much faster than his best time of 15:07 from Pan Pacs. In fact, 15:01.65 is the top swimming time in the world! While many open water swimmers, including Warkentin, have been faster pulling than swimming, that in-practice performance from Gemmell continues his establishment as a world threat in open water.

On the women’s side, Sutton has decided to pass up open water in Shanghai and London to focus on pool events, but her Mission Viejo teammate Christine Jennings won the gold at Pan Pacs and finished in the top-ten in Roberval. 17 year-old Eva Fabian also has extensive international experience, winning the 5k in Roberval. Fabian was in medal contention for the 10k before she received a disqualification for missing a turn buoy near the race’s end. Additionally, Emily Brunemann trains in Fullerton with Urbanchek, and she has international experience, having finished in the top-ten at the 2009 Worlds. With the recent retirement of defending champion Ilchenko, whatever two Americans qualify have a strong shot to make a mark internationally, even against powerful swimmers from Australia, Italy, and Brazil

Like with the women, the men’s 10k race is wide open. 2008 Olympic champ Maarten Van Der Weijen retired after winning gold in Beijing. Stars such as Lurz, Dyatchin, Davies, Valerio Cleri, and Eugeny Drattsev loom, but whatever two Americans qualify for Shanghai have serious potential to make a mark both there and in London. No Americans medaled in the 10k at 2010 Worlds, but Peterson finished in the top-ten, and both Gemmell and Warkentin have shown their abilities in other venues. Additionally, American Alex Meyer out-touched defending champ Cleri for the 25k world title, establishing him as yet another strong American contender. In Sevilla, only one American man made the grade for the Olympics; now, many more are in the mix, and two will be favored to advance to London.

I dedicate this blog to the late Fran Crippen, who died in an Open Water race in the United Arab Emirates on October 23, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. On the Women's side for London & Shanghai watch the British girl's, not just Payne but Patten is returning to shape as is 17 year old Eleanor Faulkner who has swam 8.31 & 16.15 in the Long distance pool events this year and is training towards the Open water, Gilchrist should neither be discounted.