The Italians, which typically have great performances at the World University Games (known around the world as the “Universiade”), kicked things off from Shenzen, China with double gold in the meet’s lone open water race: the 10k. These were not only the first swimming medals handed out, but they are the first medals handed out period at this year’s Games that are designed specifically for those athletes who have attended a college or university in the last year.
The men were the first off the start at Seven Star Bay, and Italy’s Simone Ruffini was swimming alone as the only swimmer to break two-hours over the 10 kilometer (6.1 mile) course. He tapped the finish pad at 1:58:00.74. Ruffini is really more of a 5k specialist, and it was in that shorter raced that he placed 9th both at the Shanghai (2011) and Rome (2009) World Championships.
The silver medal went to Russia’s Kiriil Abrosimov in 2:00:03.35.
The bronze medal winner was Japan’s Yasunari Hirai in 2:00:05.54. Hiriai was about two minutes faster in Shanghai, which would have contended for gold here. Japan has virtually no history in open water swimming (they’ve never won a World Championship medal in over 140 chances), but their generally more compact build and shorter stature seems as though it might leave them well-equipped for the open water marathons. Hirai, at only 21, is at the leading edge of the sport in his home country.
Neither American man challenged for a medal at the end, with Florida’s Connor Signorin placing 7th in 2:00:26.64 and Michigan’s Ryan Feeley placing 14th in 2:05:02.28. Signorin, however, did cut over 8 minutes off of his time from the US Open Water Nationals held earlier this year in Ft. Lauderdale. Seventeen out of the 18 starters in this race finished the swim.
In the women’s race, the Italians completed a double thanks to a win by Rachele Bruni in 2:06:49.31. While not quite as dominant as her male coutnerpart, she still had a 40-second gap between her and the rest of the field. She who is also a 5k specialist just missed a medal at this year’s World Championships by placing 4th. Unlike her male counterpart, Bruni is also one of her country’s top-three distance swimmers in the pool.
In 2nd was Nadine Reichert from the great German open water tradition in 2:07:29.21. After her touch, it was another minute until the other Italian competitor, Alice Franco, took the bronze in 2:08:42.77.
The Americans in the women’s race were Tristin Baxter, who touched 12th in 2:13:04.68, and Damaris Iriondo, who was 16th in 2:14:10.96. For Baxter, that’s an 11-minute drop from US Nationals, and for Iriondo that’s about a 9-minute drop. The two switched positions, as Iriondo was actually the higher-seeded American. The pair aren’t as well-known as their male counterparts, but Iriondo swims for Princeton and Baxter swims for Arizona State.