At just 16 years of age, Queensland schoolgirl Chelsea Gubecka, has the open water swimming world at her feet after mixing it with the best in the world in today’s 10 kilometre FINA World Championship and Olympic qualifier in Kazan.
The Year 12 student at Kawana Waters State College on the Sunshine Coast, was the second youngest in the 50-strong field that slogged it out for almost two hours on the Kazanka River, chasing the 10 automatic Rio spots on the line.
But in the end it was a case of “so close yet so far” for Gubecka, who finished 13th – three places shy of an automatic qualification for the Rio Olympics.
Her team mate Kareena Lee, also from the Sunshine Coast, finished a creditable 20th in her first world championships and swam her way to exhaustion, spending the afternoon in hospital under observation.
Lee, an asthmatic, collapsed minutes after finishing the race as she reached the media Mixed Zone, complaining of shortness of breath.
Australian National head coach Ron McKeon said Lee was taken to hospital for observation and was released after three hours, walking out of hospital with Australian team management, before heading back to the team hotel.
It showed just how tough a day it was out on the river, and just what these young athletes are prepared to do as they chase their goals. Both Gubecka and Lee were well placed for the entire four-lap journey as they jostled their way around the picturesque 2.5km course as if their lives depended on it.
The Kazan vista may have looked nice to the spectators but in the water it was a case of the survival of the fittest, the fastest and the best.
Their lives of course meant Olympic spots – and an event which saw even the best tested to the limit with 2012 London Olympic 10km silver medallist and two time World Champion Kerrie-Ann Payne, two spots behind Gubecka in 15th.
The Aussie girls were in the best of company.
For Gubecka, who finished 30th at her first FINA World Championships in Barcelona at just 14 in 2013, said she was happy, although it would have been nice to go a little bit quicker.
Gubecka positioned herself in that top 15 and gave herself every chance; making the right moves to put herself in the pack, to give herself a chance.
Her coach Michael Sage, proud of the way his young charge mixed it with the best in the world, summed it up well when he said: “The Olympics can be a quick process but the quick process is fast (as we saw today) so we’re going the longer route.
“But our goal is still to be there, it’s just going to take a little bit longer.
“The Rio Test event next month is the next thing for us. It will be great experience and the chance to race the Brazilians and also to see the course which is the main thing. We’ll then keep going through the (Olympic selection) process and the Olympic qualifier through Portugal next May.”
Gubecka knows she will get her chance, it’s just going to take time.
“Looking back at 2013 when I was 14, it was a very good learning experience and to finish 13th here (two years later) and just missing the top ten and Rio qualification, I (actually) couldn’t be happier and I get to have a good hit out in Portugal next year, ” Gubecka said.
“Being just 16, the youngest in the group and the second youngest in the field it’s such good experience to get to do this so young.
“To get a shot at the Olympics, not too many get that opportunity, I’m really stoked, I’m really excited for what’s to come. I enjoy open water swimming. It is something I love to do and I want to pursue it; I can’t wait to see what the future holds. It’s very exciting just to be in the mix and to get that extra opportunity to represent Australia and do my country proud.”
Coach Sage, who nervously watched the race unfold, early on from the feeding pontoons, has the final say. “It felt like that last kilometre went for about an hour; through my eyes it was like watching a scary movie, I just wanted to close my eyes,” said Sage. “She gave herself a shot…she fought and she went past a few in the last couple of hundred metres; I’m proud of her, she fought with everything she had. The decisions she made in the race were well beyond her years. But this is a new level; that was incredibly fast, especially the top three who just took off.”
FINA World Championships, Women’s Open water 10km, Kazan, FINAL:
Aurelie Muller (FRA) 1:58.04 Sharron Van Rouwendaal (NED) 1:58.06 Marcela Cunha (BRA) 1:58.26 Rachele Bruni (ITA) 1:58.27 Anastasiia Krapivina (RUS) 1:58.28.6 Poliana Okimoto Cintra (BRA) 1:58.28.8 Isabelle Franziska Harle (GER) 1:58.30 Kalliopi Araouzou (GRE) 1:58.30 Hayley Anderson (USA) 1:58.35 Eva Risztov (HUN) 1:58.36 Chelsea Gubecka (AUS) 13th 1:58.51 Kareena Lee (AUS) 20th 1:59.32.
The pool swimmers will travel to Kazan tomorrow with competition starting on August 2 and running until August 9 at the Kazan Arena.
Swimming news courtesy of Swimming Australia.