2023 Swammy Awards: Open Water Male Swimmer of the Year – Florian Wellbrock

See all of our 2023 Swammy Awards here.

The 2023 Swammy Award for the Open Water Male Swimmer of the Year goes to Florian Wellbrock of Germany.

Wellbrock’s year was highlighted by his sweep of the individual open water events at the 2023 World Championships, where he claimed gold in both the 5k and 10k. Wellbrock, who is known for his pool swimming just as much as his prowess in the open water, had an up-and-down competition in Fukuoka.

He kicked off the World Championships with the 5k event, where he defended his title from Budapest and took the win by over four seconds. His final time of 53:58.0 was enough to outmatch Italian rivals Gregorio Paltrinieri (54:02.5) and Domenico Acerenza (54:04.2).

In the 10k distance a few days later, he took the lead early and never looked back. He won the race by nearly twenty seconds, improving upon the bronze medal performance he put up a year prior. Kristof Rasovszky of Hungary and Oliver Klemet of Germany had an aggressive battle during the closing meters of the race, with Rasovszky ultimately grabbing silver (1:50:59.0) and Klemet snagging bronze (1:51:00.8).

Wellbrock, who was the Tokyo Olympic Champion in the event, made it the third straight World Championship meet where he earned a medal in this event. He was also the World Champion in the event in Gwangju (2019).

After the open water competition concluded, he headed to the pool to take part in the 800 and 1500m freestyle events. In his first event, the 800 free, he missed the finals by placing 9th in the heats (7:45.87). He was the silver medalist in the event a year prior, so it was a shocking miss for the now 26-year-old distance star.

Later in the meet, he fell to 20th in his signature 1500m freestyle event. He entered the competition with the top ranked time, as he posted a scorching 14:34.89 in April to become an early favorite for the world title.

Wellbrock won the bronze medal in the 1500 in Tokyo, picked up bronze in the 1500 (and silver in the 800) last year in Budapest, and won the world title in the event back in 2019. Notably, the open water competition took place prior to pool swimming, which will be reversed come the Paris Olympic Games.

Having the open water competition take place after the pool events has shown to be promising for Wellbrock, who medaled in the pool in Tokyo before scoring gold in the subsequent open water competition.

On top of his accomplishments at the World Championships this year, he had a strong showing at the opening leg of the Open Water World Cup as well. There in Egypt, he won the 10k by a tenth over Marc-Antoine Oliver of France.

He did not compete again until the last stop in Portugal, where he placed 20th. This was presumably because he was training to focus on both pool and open water events at the Fukuoka World Championships, and the first three stops all occurred during the month of May.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Kristof Rasovszky (HUN)Kristof Rasovszky was the overall World Cup winner for 2023, winning by 500 points over Italian Marcello Guidi. Rasovszky was victorious in the individual 10k at the second stop in Italy, and never placed below 4th at any of the other stops. In conjunction with his World Cup title, he also earned two silver medals at the World Championships in Fukuoka. Those medals came from the individual 10k and the team event.
  • Domenico Acerenza (ITA)Domenico Acerenza had a really balanced year in the open water sector. He walked away from the Fukuoka World Championships with two individual medals: a bronze in the 5k and a gold in the team event. He also placed 4th overall at the World Cup circuit, highlighted by a win at the final stop in Portugal.
  • Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA)Gregorio Paltrinieri did not feature much on the World Cup tour this year (15th overall – only attended two of the four stops), but did walk away from the Fukuoka World Championships with a gold and silver medal. The gold came in the form of the team event, while the silver was secured en route to placing 2nd in the individual 5k.

Past Winners:

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5 months ago

Nick sloman had a great year…

5 months ago

Yeah, much respect for this guy. Head and shoulders above his competition when it counts most.

5 months ago

Do para swimmers!

5 months ago

weird how the US is never as good at open water as they are pool swimming. Jordan is the only American on that list, and most of them are European. Anyone know why that is?

Reply to  saltie
5 months ago

Ever heard of Ashley Twichell or Katie Grimes more recent? Both from the US and both very high quality Openwater swimmers.

Europeans have had a great competitive Openwater circuit paying good prizemoney for many years, more racing = more experience, and in Openwater, experience is paramount to success.

In my opinion, it is much harder for the US (and Aussie) athletes due to travel times (and costs) involved in getting to the European circuit to gain their experience. Most would think Aussies, with their proud swimming history and being surrounded by the Openwater, would rule the Openwater races around the world but this lack of international racing experience also hurts the Aussies just as much as the US athletes.

Reply to  saltie
5 months ago

I don’t know about the US, but here in Europe open water swimming in general has a sizable social/cultural base outside of professional sports. There are popular lake, sea-strait and river crossing events each year in many countries – it is almost (if not just as much) as popular as pool swimming, and that popularity might bleed into professional Open Water swimming by simply more people being interested in doing it.