Midshipman Navigates To Victory

Midshipman Navigates To Victory

18-year-old Deni Cullom of the Mission Viejo Nadadores navigated through a flotilla of nine men over the last 1K of the USA Swimming National 5K Open Water Swimming Championships in Long Beach, California to upset a star-studded field of the best American open water swimmers.

From the start when 66 men started shoulder-to-shoulder and sprinted to the first turn buoy to shortly before the mid-point when Sean Ryan of Tennessee made a 90-stroke-per-minute surge, the race had every tactic utilized by world-class swimmers.

At one point, Fran Crippen, fresh off of his dramatic 10K victory, had to duck underwater when he was squeezed by his aggressive opponents around the turn buoy. But back on the surface, Fran started to quarterback the field. “You take the lead,” he appeared to yell at his former Mission Viejo teammate, Deni Cullom, when he felt that the pace was too fast. After Sean opened up a body-length lead with a strong move, the massive starting field was stretched out along the rowing course, making it a 12-man lead pack, when Sean took off. Fran wisely started the chase and then instructed his wingman Deni to take the lead. The incoming Naval Academy freshman followed orders and picked up his pace to overtake Sean, a freshman-to-be at University of Michigan.

Sean, with Deni on his left and Fran on his hip, relinquished the lead and Deni purposefully and strategically slowed the race down, taking away Sean’s advantage. Now sandwiched between beefier opponents, Sean’s stroke count was reduced from 90 spm to 81 spm.

Now with Deni in the lead, Fran, Chip Peterson, the second-place finisher in the 10K, Vincent Donnelly, Alex Meyer of Harvard and two Canadians Richard Weinbeger and Simon Tobin boxed in Sean from all sides. The pack stayed tightly wound, but no whistles or yellow cards were called, either on the straightaways or 180° turns. Finally down the backstretch on the bell lap with less than 1000 meters to go, 2005 world 10K champion Peterson took off with his trademark 8-beat kick. But he only momentarily stretched out the field as the rest of his combatants quickly took chase.

But Chip was only wisely lining himself up for an easy last buoy turn. However, like piranha after food, the field bunched themselves up on Chip’s heels with Fran on one hip and Sean on the other with, somehow, Alex right in the middle.

Around the last buoy, the nine top men mashed together like potatoes, but somehow Deni slid off to one side like butter. With eight men swimming on top of one another, Deni continued off to the side. Inexplicably with eight men toppling each other and the men crawling on each other’s backs, no whistles or yellow cards were called. And quietly off to the side, Deni forged on like a plebe on a long march.

By the time it became obvious that no fouls were going to be called, Deni had built up a comfortable 4-body-length lead. “I could have been called for a foul,” admitted Chip, “But it was everyone trying to get a good position to the finish.”

Meanwhile, it was Deni with the best – and most fortunate – position, kicking hard to his first national championship. Expect the unexpected could not be more true in this race.

But his unexpected victory was not going to come easy for the Midshipman as Fran, the fastest closer-in-the-business, gave chase. Stroke-by-stroke, Deni’s lead began to shrink. 400 meters to go and his lead was down to 3 bodies. 300 meters and his lead was down to 2 bodies. 200 meters and Fran was in his wake. 100 meters and bets were being placed on Fran. At 50 meters, Deni still had a few strokes lead, but with 10 meters, it appeared that Fran was going to pull out another nail-biter. But today was Deni’s day, three weeks before he heads to boot camp as he won in 57:06.7 to Fran’s 57:07.0, a mere 3 tenths of a second.

We salute Deni’s victory. Well done.

The results of the top 15 finishers:

1. Deni Cullom (Mission Viejo Nadadores), 57:06.795
2. Fran Crippen (Germantown Academy Aquatic Club), 57:07.074
3. Chip Charles Peterson (North Carolina Aquatic Club), 57:08.265
4. Alex Meyer (Crimson Aquatics), 57:16.023 0.27
5. Sean Ryan (Scenic City Aquatic Club), 57:17.565
6. Richard Weinbeger (Canada), 57:18.717
7. Vincent Donnelly, 57:19.048
8. Simon Tobin (Canada), 57:20.544
9. Aimeson King (Canada), 57:21.316
10. Blake Lewkowitz (Crimson Aquatics), 59:10.192
11. Dan O’Connor (Syracuse Chargers), 59:17.745
12. Cary Wright, 59:18.776
13. Logan Redondo (Aquazot Swim Club), 59:22.953
14. Riley Mita (Canyons Aquatic Club), 59:23.032
15. Xavier Desharnais (Canada), 59:25.430

The full results are here.

Copyright © 2010 by Open Water Source
Steven Munatones