Australia has had an encouraging start to the FINA World Championships in Kazan with Jess Walker finishing fifth and Melissa Gorman seventh in the women’s five-kilometre open water event on the Kazanka River.
While in the men’s race Olympian Jarrod Poort finished 20th, with debutant Sam Sheppard 32nd in a field of 72.
The two Queensland girls were well placed throughout in a race won by defending champion, Olympic silver medallist Hayley Anderson of the USA who timed her finish to perfection to overtake European champion Sharon Van Rouwendaal from the Netherlands in a frantic final 500 metre sprint to the finish.
It is Walker’s best ever international result and her selection came after Australian champion Chelsea Gubecka chose not to swim the 5km.
Gubecka won the Australian championship, with Walker second, but withdrew after qualifying for the 10km, elevating Walker to a place on the team.
Two-time Olympian and 2009 world champion Gorman was in the top four for the whole race and admitted she didn’t quite have the change of pace at the finish.
Walker learnt of her call up after the 10km-qualifying race in Mexico when she returned from a Bali holiday and it coincided with a change of coach to David Proud at The Southport School on the Gold Coast
“I am very, very excited with that fifth placing; I certainly didn’t expect it; I found out in March that I was on the team so it’s been a short training block for me but it has obviously worked well, I am very happy with that result,” Walker said.
“You only get this kind of opportunity every so often and to think that I thought the dream was over and then I was given a second chance I didn’t want to waste it.
“I have learnt a lot in recent years with all of the international races and just wanted to get a really good start and position myself; I didn’t want to get mixed up in the pack but I just managed to get myself in the right place at the right time and it really paid off.
“Coming into the last kilometre something just switched on and I started to feel good again and I just remembered a few of the things that David and I have been working on with regards my new stroke and it really kicked in.
“Things have clicked and I’ve been working on a lot of pace work, my stroke rate and lengthening my stroke, little things that have made a difference.”
Gorman said: “It was a good race, I just didn’t have the change of pace at the finish after a pretty good start when I swam my way into a nice position.
“I copped a few along the way but recomposed myself and got myself back into a good place but when they put the hammer down at the end I just didn’t have the change of speed.”
Dutch swimmer Van Rouwendaal, who was once coached by Australian National Head Coach Jacco Verhaeren in Holland, took the race by the horns, with her long loping stroke stretching a lead of up to 10 metres for the first 4.5km.
But the experience of Anderson, who had attached earlier in the race, came back towards the end on another line, taking the Dutch swimmer by surprise.
The Greek swimmer Kalliopi Araouzou also made her move after the final turning buoy and along with Germany’s Finnia Wunram, had the momentum to swim past Rouwendaal with the finish in their sights.
Anderson powered over the final 20 metres to grab the gold with Araouzou the silver and Wunram the bronze.
Poort 20th and Sheppard 32nd in men’s 5km
In the rough and tumble men’s race, the Australian boys were never really in the hunt with an historic gold medal going to Chad Ho – winning South Africa’s first World Championship gold medal for open water.
He survived a late charge from Germany’s Rob Muffels with the pair swimming stroke for stroke over the final 15 metres with Ho touching the finish pad fractionally ahead, with Italy’s Matteo Furland taking the bronze.
Poort, one of Australia’s more experienced male swimmers, admitted his disappointment, saying his goal was a podium finish.
“It was pretty disappointing I was looking at a podium but I just put myself in a bad position in the end,” said Poort.
“I just didn’t have enough in the tank in the last 500m or so.
“In the first lap, the pace wasn’t too fast but it was a bit rough in there and I was trying to stick to the outside and just trying to move up on the last lap on the outside.
“Coming into the last turning can I was back around 25th and just couldn’t get up there close enough to the front, to the last kick, I just wasn’t there, I just wasn’t in the race and if your not there its hard to catch up.”
Debutant Sheppard said he was happy with how he swam for the first three-quarters of the race.
“On that last lap I just took a bad line that cost me, it was a great experience but I just made the wrong decision to go out wide, that really cost me,” said Sheppard, who has a week to prepare for the 25km.
FINA World Championships, Kazan, Russia, Women’s 5km Open Water FINAL:
Hayley Anderson (USA) 58:48.4 Kalliopi Araouzou (GRE) 58:49.8 Finnia Wunram (GER) 58:51.0 Sharron Van Rouwendaal (NED) 58:55.5 Jess Walker (AUS) 59:09.9 Ashley Twichell (USA) 59:10.0 Melissa Gorman (AUS) 59:12.7 Anastasiia Krapivina (RUS) 59:12.7 Ariana Bridi (ITA) 59:12.9 Erika Villaecija (ESP) 59:15.0
FINA World Championships, Kazan, Russia, Men’s 5km Open Water FINAL:
Chad Ho (RSA) 55:17.6 Rob Muffels (GER) 55:17.6 Matteo Furlan (ITA) 55:20.0 Evgenii Drattcev (RUS) 55:20.4 Florian Wellbrock (GER) 55.20.6 David Heron (USA) 55.20.7 Caleb Hughes (GBR) 55:21.9 Mario Sanzullo (ITA) 55:22.7 Victor Colonese (BRA) 55.24.4 Antonio Arroyo (ESP) 55:24.6 Jarrod Poort (AUS) 20th 55:31.1 Sam Sheppard 55:53.6 32nd
Swimming news courtesy of Swimming Australia.