The well known attraction La Ramblas is approximately 2 kilometers in length but on Saturday it was extended another 25 kilometers to accommodate 48 athletes who's tour of Barcelona could not be complete with only the shops and eateries. The final event of the Open Water program was contested today for both men and women and included a 44 year old American among the 44 endurance swimmers who completed the 25K course at the Port de Barcelona.
Some tourists could easily spend five hours shopping or eating along the La Ramblas, but the five hours these swimmers spent in the water was anything but easy. The fastest swimmer was Yuri Kudinov (RUS) who completed his "tour" in 5:02.20 while the first female to finish was Edith Van Dijk (NED) who took 5:35.43.5 to complete her adventure.
It was not at all surprising that Kudinov or Van Dijk captured the gold medal as both had repeated as champions of the 25K marathon. Kudinov won this event in each of the past three years beginning with his first title in Honolulu in November 2000. Van Dijk had similar results in 2000 and also last year in Sharm-El-Sheik, Egypt although she achieved only the silver medal in the 25K event in Fukuoka. What was surprising is that both the men's and the women's races ended in very close finishes and each with a familiar cast of champions.
The final 800 meter sprint of the men's event was preceded by a group of seven swimmers who began the final round by testing the endurance of each other. Three of them were able to breakaway from the pack and began an all out sprint for the touchpads. David Meca (ESP) and Peter Stoichev (BUL) had taken turns as the lead swimmer of the event. Kudinov managed to "stalk the leaders" for most of the race, comfortably "drafting" off those who swam only a few meters ahead of him. Kudinov, Meca and Stoichev swam side by side and stroke for stroke demonstrating near super-human endurance as they completed the run-down of the last few meters.
The results were delayed for 10 minutes as officials and Omega Swiss Timing experts were consulted to determine the correct order of finish. Only four-tenths of a second separated Kudinov from Meca, while the ever confident Spanish hero told the television cameras that even he was not certain he had won the event. Meca declared "it was a tough race, a very tough finish, and all three of us our champions." Meca earned a bronze medal in the 10K event held three days ago. The Spaniard had won a gold medal in the 10K World Championship in Honolulu and also the silver medal behind Kudinov during the November 2000 event. Kudinov told reporters today "I am extremely pleased with this result, but this victory was much harder than the other three." Stoichev also competed in the 10K event in 2000 and claimed the silver medal finishing less than four seconds behind Meca. American Andrew Bray, born in 1958, and the oldest competitor at the FINA World Championships finished in 19th place and 45 minutes and 23 seconds behind the winner. That was about 9 minutes faster than Ryan Dvorak (USA) the youngest competitor in today's event who finished in 21st place.
In the women's 25K event Edith Van Dijk (NED) showed true leadership; she was one of the leaders for nearly the entire race. When Edith stopped for water or a feeding, so did almost everyone else. For Van Dijk the week just got better and better. Last Sunday she was eighth place in the 5K event, and on Wednesday she collected a bronze medal in the 10K event. Today she collected her 10th medal in a FINA Open Water World Championship event since her inaugural appearance in 1998. "The last 5K was very hard but in the end I kept to my strategy. I took advantage of the current and often would pick up the pace to escape from my competitors, and only the Germans were able to keep up with me."
In second place was Britta Kamrau (GER) who said "I intended to get a medal in the Open Water events and this is my best placement in the 25K. I knew that if the finish was a sprint, that I would be in a good position for a medal, and today we finished in a sprint." She and teammate Angela Maurer (GER) swam together to the finish line with Kamrau touching only four-tenths of a second ahead of Maurer who claimed the bronze medal. In the 25K event in Sharm-El-Sheik, Egypt last year Van Dijk won the gold but then it was Maurer who earned the silver and Kamrau the bronze medal. The Germans enjoyed great success earlier this week as Kamrau also received a bronze medal in the 5K event last Sunday and Maurer a silver in the 10K on Wednesday.