66 men from 38 countries stood at the starting line of the 10 km world championship race under the warm 28ºC (82ºF) Spanish sun. Amid an enthusiastic crowd lining the shores and enjoying a stunning summer day in Barcelona, this race was different than the norm for the highest echelon of men.
For starters, they looked nervous and proved it with one of the few false starts in recent history.
But the veterans were calm. That combination of composure and confidence would later prove the difference in the race.
Once the massive field dove in the water, the men took a page from the women’s book of tactics and strategy. A la Keri-Anne Payne, Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia wrestled early control over the field. He confidently led the huge group around the red turn buoys.
Like the top women, the Tunisian – currently the dominant man in the open water swimming world – challenged the rest of the field to stay with him. The scrum behind Saturday’s 5 km world champion dealt the situation as best they could, especially in the midst of the obvious physicality of a huge scrum.
Like a school of fish, the entire pack instinctively swam 25 meters within one another as they continued around the first few loops. Sloshed left and right, the early physicality and warm conditions were bound to have an effect on the race during the second half. Mellouli, Sean Ryan of the USA remained in the early lead and enjoyed cleaner waters than those who remained in their wake.
But veterans lurked quietly in the midst of the confusion and commotion. They would not show their hands until the end of the race.
Like their female counterparts, the pack generated plenty of whistles and yellow cards from the referees. Competitors like Brian Ryckeman of Belgium found themselves in unavoidable situations and were called early for impeding. As the race progressed in the first half, Mellouli and Ryan, both well-known for leading the pack early, settled down the pace a bit and allowed men like 19-year-old Axel Reymond at his first world championships to take over the lead at a 5 km per hour pace while others like Chad Ho of South Africa positioned themselves towards the front.
Banging and slamming into one another, the referees did their best to keep the physicality to a minimum, but the aggression and intensity were a far greater catalyst of action than whistles by officials. By the first loop with Mellouli, Jack Burnell of Great Britain, and Sean Ryan willing themselves into the lead, Lijun Zu of China was red carded (disqualified) while the rest of the tightly-bunched pack continued to scramble in and around the turn buoys and feeding stations.
As the men cruised and churned up their own turbulence on a flat-water day under cloudless skies, Mellouli kept trying to push the pace and made continuous surges building into larger leads during the second loop. But the chase group, led by Canada’s Richard Weinberger were not about to let Mellouli get too far of a lead. Like a cycling peloton, they lured MellouliEric Hedlin, who nearly upset Mellouli in the 5 km on Saturday, joined his Tunisian nemesis, Australia’s Rhys Mainstone-Hodson, and Britain’s Burnell in the front together with the always savvy Thomas Lurz of Germany.
While Aussie Mainstone-Hodson forged into the lead just after half, Mellouli and at least 30 aggressive men followed behind. With another 50 minutes to go, the race was still up for grabs with only half the starting field dropped. The lead pack was seemingly glued together with a revolving door of leaders in the front. Daniel Fogg, fifth at the 2012 London Olympics, moved up during the second half to increase his odds.
But the veterans played their cards right. Like poker players in a casino, they wore their dark goggles, never wavered, and hide their hands until it counted.
And they do not start counting their chips until the last loop.
As the race continued back and forth during the second half, Spyridon Gianniotis of Greece was patient. The 2011 10 km world champion had decided to sit out the 5 km on Saturday. But he was cautiously confident of his chances in the 10 km. Like a grand master playing chess in the open water, Gianniotis was always lurking in the lead pack but never in the front on the front half. He knew the movie was far from its conclusion until the last loop. The Greek soldier waited and waited. Like Socrates, he was about to teach his younger colleagues a lesson in strategy.
“It was unbelievable today“, Gianniotis said to FINA’s press agent. “I wanted to swim three laps comfortably and then get out in front on the final lap. Whenever anyone swam next to me I pushed up the pace. I’m quite good at sprinting. I watched Mellouli race in his 5km and I know that he has more speed than me.”
Gianniotis patiently bid his time until the last loop. Then it was time. And when it was time, he hit the accelerator and made Greece proud.
With 200 meters to go, he surged into a 5-meter lead with France’s Damien Cattin-Vidal, Mellouli, and Lurz in the chase group. No one else was in contention. But it was a swim of pure pain. “I pushed it in the last 300 meters just to stay ahead. In the last 50 meters I never felt so bad. I almost fainted I was so tired.”
But like a man being chased by two hungry sharks, Gianniotis swam to safety and sealed a victory with a powerful statement and a wise strategy backed by incredible stamina and speed.
Real-time race reports courtesy of Theodore Yach. Final race results are as follows:
1. Spyridon Ginniotis (GRE) 1:49:11.8
2. Thomas Lurz (GER) 1:49:14.5
3. Oussams Mellouli(TUN) 1:49:19.2
4. Damien Cattin-Vidal(FRA) 1:49:19.8
5. Richard Weinberger (CAN) 1:49:19.9
6. Ferry Weertman (NED) 1:49:20.3
7. Allan Do Carmo (BRA) 1:49:26.2
8. Chad Ho (RSA) 1:49:19.3
9. Christian Reichert (GER) 1:49:26.8
10. Guillermo Bertola (ARG) 1:49:28.4
11. Brian Rycheman (BEL) 1:49:29.3
12. Simon Huitenga (AUS) 1:49:29.7
13. Rhys Mainstone 1:49:30.4
14. Valerio Cleri (ITA) 1:49:30.5
15. Jack Burnell (GBR) 1:49:30.6
16. Chris Bryan (IRL) 1:49:33.4
17. Sergey Bolshakov (RUS) 1:49:34.5
18. Gergely Gyurta (HUN) 1:49:34.6
19. Igor Chervynskiy (UKR) 1:49:40.6
20. Kane Radford (NZL) 1:49:43.0
21. Yasunari Hirai (JPN) 1:49:52.8
22. Jan Posmourny (CZE) 1:49:54.4
23. Eric Hedlin (CAN) 1:49:54.5
24. Johndry Segovia (VEN) 1:49:59.7
25. Ventslava Aydarski (BUL) 1:50:00.2
26. Yuto Kobayashi (JPN) 1:50:17.4
27. Miguel Angel Rozas Lopez (ESP) 1:50:18.0
28. Martin Miguel Carrizo Yunges (ARG) 1:50:18.4
29. Igor Snitko (UKR) 1:50:18.9
30. Santiago Paul Enderica Salgado (ECU) 1:50:20.2
31. Ivan Alejandro Enderica Ochoa (ECU) 1:50:20.6
32. Antonios Fokaidis (GRE) 1:50:20.7
33. Vasco Gaspar (POR) 1:50:20.7
34. Kirill Abrosimov (RUS) 1:50:22.5
35. Iván de Jesus López Ramos (MEX) 1:50:22.8
36. Yuval Safra (ISR) 1:50:23.5
37. Thomas Snelson Kilbride (ESP) 1:50:25.1
38. Daniel Fogg (GBR) 1:50:29.0
39. Arseniy Lavrentyev (POR) 1:50:31.7
40. Axel Reymond (FRA) 1:50:33.0
41. Zhang Zibin (CHN) 1:50:55.4
42. Alex Meyer (USA) 1:51:01.8
43. Mario Sanzullo (ITA) 1:51:07.7
44. Luis Bolanos (VEN) 1:51:09.6
45. Phillip Ryan (NZL) 1:51:11.3
46. Shahar Resman (ISR) 1:51:13.6
47. Jan Kutnik (CZE) 1:51:15.1
48. Miguel Alejandro Hernandez Martinez (MEX) 1:51:17.6
49. Vitaliy Kuhdyakov (KAZ) 1:51:42.8
50. Sean Ryan (USA) 1:51:43.7
51. Hercules Troyden Prinsloo (RSA) 1:51:48.0
52. Diogo Villarinho (BRA) 1:53:20.3
53. Zagrani Mohamed Amine (TUN) 2:03:03.3
54. Youssef Hossameldeen (EGY) 2:03:05.3
55. Francisco Montero (CRC) 2:03:27.6
56. Vladimir Tolikin (KAZ) 2:04:47.6
57. Vicentel Vidal Kubiersky (CHI) 2:05.14.7
58. Rodolfo Sanchez (CRC) 2:06:50.7
59. Ching Leung Sunny Poon (HKG) 2:06:55.8
60. Manuel Meneses (GUA) 2:09:15.8
61. Chun Hong Li (HKG) 2:09:17.5
62. Addul Hady (INA) 2:10:46.2
Mandar Anandrao Divase Adel Ragab (EGY) DNF
Saleh Mohammad (SYR) DNS
Lijun Zu (CHN) DSQ
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