The men’s race was the total opposite of the women’s the night before. Those on the scene say that the course was “adjusted” after the women’s race, which makes it pretty clear that Saturday’s 1:44’s from the women were on a course that was shorter than 10km. The men started out much slower than the women, and though they did well to make up that ground at the end, the winning times here were about a minute slower than the women’s race was.
Regardless, this was a rather slow pace for the men, which played right into the hands of the open water novice Ous Mellouli from Tunisia. He’s a distance star in the pool, but this is only his second competitive 10km race and he will return to Southern California as a winner in 1:45.18. He stayed with the lead-pack throughout the first 8000 meters, but with a gallon-more speed than anybody else in this field, and not being forced to expend that speed early, he stepped on the gas with about 1500 meters to go and left the field in the dust.
When asked about why he’s now trying to double in the pool and open water, Mellouli answered simply “Why not?”. He pointed out that unlike at the World Championships, the Olympic open water races are after the pool swimming is completed, so there’s not much to lose by entering the marathon.
This puts the USC Trojans, and their open water coach Catherine Vogt, as the hottest program in the open water world after sweeping the races (Haley Anderson won the women’s 10k on Saturday).
Canada’s Richard Weinberger also had a great closing lap; he wasn’t really in the conversation in this race and sort of hid at the back of the leaders’ pack. But that was perfect drafting position, and with energy conserved he tore around the final buoy for the 200m race to the finish and took 2nd, about 11 seconds back of Mellouli (roughly 5 body-lengths). This gives Canada both a male and female entry for the Games, which is great to see for a country that is really trying to grow this sport domestically. The veteran Peter Stoychev from Bulgaria, who is at the end of his career after announcing last year that he was swimming his final World Championship competition, will get one more run at the Olympics thanks to a third-place finish 15 seconds behind. He was last year’s 25km World Champion, and was 6th in Beijing.
After China’s Lijun Zu pushed the pace for about the first half from the front of the field (he ended up fading to 23rd), Italy’s Valerio Cleri moved into the lead and looked like he would be controlling the end of the race. But he couldn’t keep pace with Mellouli’s speed either, and was 4th in 1:45.36.
Another former NCAA star, Georgia’s Troy Prinsloo, will also be headed to the Olympics after placing 5th overall. This will be viewed as a bit of an upset over countrymate Chad Ho, a former FINA Open Water World Cup series champion, who was only 12th and 50-seconds behind Prinsloo. Ho is typically a strong finisher, and so this slow race should have played into his lap, but he actually struggled to finish as well as Prinsloo did (he looked better in the first 7000 meters than the last 3000). He hasn’t raced as much in open water internationally this season as he used to, so perhaps he’s lost the feel for his closing speed a bit.
There was a big dropoff after Prinsloo, but this was ultimately a “fair” qualifying, in that the 9 automatic spots went to the top 9 finishers with no national duplicates. In fact, including continental qualifiers, the top 11 finishers here will all get Olympic Invites. That’s as compared to the women’s race, where 3 in the top 11 will be watching this race instead of swimming it.
In a great moment for the host country Portugal (that didn’t have much to cheer about in the women’s race), Arseniy Lavrentyev had a phenomenal race to take 9th and earn his second-straight open water Olympic berth. He was at the games in Beijing, but finished close-to-last.
Among other notable battles for spots, the two Brits (Daniel Fogg and David Davies) took a very interesting strategy. It was almost as if they had a gentlemen’s agreement to just swim tight for the first 8000 meters, without concern for placing, and see who could get it done at the end of the race; but that seems odd after Fogg told local media that he expected to take the Olympic spot from the defending Olympic silver medalist in this race Davies.
But the two hung way back at the end of the pack (almost in dead last), until finally showing some speed in the last lap of six. Fogg made his move first, and though Davies fought back, Fogg held on to finish 35th – 26 seconds ahead of Davies.
The British selection committee is not bound by this finish, as Davies did not finish high enough to earn an invite other than the “host country,” but this result will weigh heavily in their decision-making. They will have to take into account the history, the effect of pool swimming (Fogg won the British trial in the 1500), and the different course – London’s Serpentine will be very flat, which would seem to advantage Davies. The final decision will be announced at ASA Nationals in two weeks.
New Zealand’s Kane Radford, who was riding high after winning last year’s Tiburon Mile, looked like a mile winner in this race – he was very strong at the beginning, but in just the final lap fell off the map to finish only 27th. He gave up a minute and 25 seconds to the leaders in just the last 1500 meters of the race. He, like his teammate Cara Baker on Saturday, will now have to wait for relief from the New Zealand Olympic Committee to find out his standing. Per FINA’s rules, he’s qualified, but the NZOC told their athletes that the continental quota bid wouldn’t be enough – they needed to finish in the top 9.
In this case, however, there were other swimmers from Oceania – specifically 16-year old Benjamin Schulte from Guam. He’s an extremely young swimmer and new to open water (though he holds several National pool records already), and though he finished 52nd out of 54 finishers, 15 minutes behind, he would go to London if New Zealand turns the bid down. Schulte lives and trains in Australia with the famed Miami group on the Gold Coast.
Some investigation is warranted into the training of the Croatians, as both men pulled out of this race early – Josip Culina in the first 2500 meters, and his teammate Tomislov Soldo later in the race. There were also a pair of red cards given out – one to Japan’s Yuto Kobayashi and one to Morocco’s Said Saber.
Aside from Davies of the UK, and Belgium’s Tom Vangeneugden (who was 12th at Worlds and the second swimmer from his country) all of the major players should be in the 25-man field in London.
Olympic Qualifiers (with overall rank, and distance from leader):
1. Ous Mellouli – Tunisia – 1:45:18.5
2. Richard Weinberger – Canada – +11.7
3. Peter Stoychev – Bulgaria – +15.6
4. Valerio Cleri – Italy – +18.3
5. Troy Prinsloo – South Africa – +22.3
6. Yasanuri Hirai – Japan – +56.1
7. Igor Chervynski – Ukraine – +56.9
8. Ivan Enderico Ochoa – Ecuador – +58.7
9. Arseniy Lavrentyev – Portugal – +1:02.04
Continental Qualifiers (with overall rank, and distance from leader):
10. Yuriy Kudinov – Kazakhstan – +1:04.3
11. Erwin Maldonado – Venezuela – +1:10.7
14. Csaba Gercsak – Hungary – +1:12.2
27. Kane Radford – New Zealand – +1:44.2
36. Mazen Aziz – Egypt – +4:20.0
Full official results not yet posted, but they will be here when available.