One of the most competitive, exciting races in the annals of open water swimming – indeed in all of aquatics – left many swimmers, coaches, and spectators speechless this Spanish afternoon at the FINA World Championships. How did it feel from the perspective of the athletes in the water?

Zsofia Balazs finished 19th in 1:58:28.5, which was an incredibly brief 9.3 seconds off the pace of Brazilian Poliana Okimoto.

9 seconds and 19 women…in a nearly 2-hour race where the largest gap between swimmers from #1 through #19 was a mere 1.1 seconds. Nothing could be realistically closer.

Balazs made up a half-second on the leader on the final lap, but in an indication of the competitiveness of these 53 women, she dropped four positions in the close pack. “That was probably one of the hardest 10k’s I’ve done,” said Balazs, who turned 23 earlier this month.

It’s one of the ones that I’m most proud of also. Everyone stayed together the entire time. It was just fight, fight, fight, none of the girls would give up and the pack never spread out.”

She said she looked to teammate Richard Weinberger as inspiration for her efforts. Weinberger battled back into medal contention in Monday’s men’s 10 km despite losing time to repeat a turn after missing a buoy. “Seeing Richard yesterday, he just never gave up. I went into the race just saying that if he could do it, then I better not give up.”

Swimming Canada High Performance Director John Atkinson said, “I think Nadine [Williams] and her will both take things away from this to put into practice into other competitive swims that they have.”

No one will forget this race.

Photos courtesy of Swimming Canada/Ian MacNicol. Race results and summary are posted here.