Australian Aquatic Super Series - Swim the Swan Challenge
On an overcast morning at Perth’s Iconic Swan River, hundreds of smiling faces lined the Barrack Street Jetty in preparation for the open water Swim the Swan Challenge as part of the 2015 BHP Billiton Aquatic Super Series.
The stakes were high among the Australian elite competitors, with the men’s and women’s open 10km race doubling as the Australian Championship event and as a selection opportunity for the FINA World Cup in Mexico.
The top three Australians from today’s events qualified for selection for the World Cup in Mexico, where the three men and three women will compete against the world’s best with just the top two Aussies then progressing onto the World Championships team.
All eyes will then be on Kazan, Russia, where the World Championships will be held. With Olympic quota spots on the line, a top-10 finish at the event will see the athletes nominated for selection onto the 2016 Australian Olympic Team.
Open Water Head Coach Ron McKeon said any chance for the swimmers to race a competitive international field at home was a great opportunity for their race skill and development leading into Rio.
“Any time our guys get to compete in an international field it is a great step towards Rio,” McKeon said.
“Fingers crossed we are going to put our best foot forward and get our athletes on the Olympic Team this year.”
There was little separating the lead pack in the men’s 10km with a photo finish required for official results as they stormed towards the finish gate on the Swan River.
With their elite pool swimmers taking second place last night, team USA managed to grab the top two spots today with Andrew Gemmell and Alex Meyer hitting the gate in 1:45:26.90 and 1:45:28.30 respectively while third place went to Daniel Fogg from Great Britain in 1:45:28.35.
After picking up the pace in the last lap, Jarrod Poort managed to successfully defend his Australian title from 2014 and finish with a time of 1:45:29.90.
Poort, the Australian Open Water Swimmer of the Year for 2014 and silver medallist from the Pan Pacific Championships, was fourth overall but was the first Aussie to finish the gruelling marathon swim with a gutsy sprint to the finish gate.
The finish was incredibly close with less than five seconds separating the top five, Poort said it all came down to the last lap.
“That last 2kms, everyone is going for it. You don’t want to let anyone pass you in that last 2km. you go past people, people don’t go past you,” Poort said.
The Illawarra swimmer said he was looking to finish in the top three overall but was happy to once again take the Australian Championship crown.
“I’m a little bit disappointed the international boys took the overall win but it was great to have them over here. They are some of the best open water guys in the world and it’s really good for us Aussie boys and the sport to have them over here.
“This was the first step of three steps [leading to Rio]. We had to be top three here to qualify for Mexico and now us Aussie boys are all fighting for those two spots [to qualify for World Championships]. It’s tough. It was tough today. We are all such good mates but we all pushed each other really well I think,” he added.
The next best Aussie was George O’Brien (1:45:31.50) who snuck in ahead of Perth local Simon Huitenga (1:45:44.80)
O’Brien could be on his way to his first World Championships if he can maintain his fine form leading into the Mexico World Cup but will need to finish ahead of either Huitenga or Poort to ensure selection.
In the women’s event, the Aussie trio of Mel Gorman (2:09:23.20), Chelsea Gubecka (2:09:33.00) and Kareena Lee (2:09:43.30) finished as the top three Australians with Gorman taking out the title of Australian Champion.
“I was actually really happy with my performance today,” 29-year-old Gorman said.
“To be able to stay up with that lead pack - it was a great international field we had here today - so to be able to stay up with the best of them is very promising.
“It’s a tough long selection process towards the Olympics but I am really excited to have made it through the first round so I’ve got a couple of months now to hopefully get into some hard training. I’m looking forward to Mexico and will hopefully get a top-two placing in the Aussies there to qualify for our World Champs team.”
Gorman is an experienced campaigner having competed at the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games and after some time out of the sport with injury is now looking to build to her third Games.
“I tried to make a bit of a break at the 5km mark which was probably not the smartest move considering the training I have had leading into this,” Gorman said.
“I have had a few problems with my shoulder so haven’t really done the work that I would have liked to but I had to back myself and go out there and have a crack. Unfortunately the pack caught back up to me but I just tried to stay with them leading into the final stages and I am just happy that I didn’t fall off the pace.
“I’ve got to have a little bit of time off now to rest my shoulder and get it fixed up and back to 100 per cent. Then I’ll really try and get in a hard training block and get in as much hard work as I can leading into Mexico.”
At just 16, Gubecka has taken the all-important first steps to making her second World Championships team.
“It was very tough,” the Kawana Waters swimmer said of the race.
“The whole race was so phenomenal. The amount of people in the race was just amazing and to have that many international competitors come to Australia and compete here was just awesome.
“We had three Aussies right up there in the top 10. Melissa Gorman did so well today and so did Kareena Lee. And now we are all going to Mexico - it’s so exciting.”
Lee, also from the Sunshine Coast, continued her good form after finishing fourth at the 2014 Pan Pacific Championships in Maui.
Sharon Van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands was the outright winner of the elite 10km event, finishing in 2:08:38.10. The Dutch swimmer held off a strong surge at the finish to beat Keri-Anne Payne (2:09:16.50) of Great Britain and Rebecca Mann (2:09:18.30) of the USA who were forced to settle for second and third respectively.