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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Who's Going To The Olympics? The 10K Conundrum

The beauty of the Olympic Marathon Swimming 10km is that 50 athletes from around the world have qualified for the Olympic final on August 9th (women) and 10th (men).

The conundrum is that the athletes and coaches do not know which 50 will be in the starting line in London.

The final decisions have yet to be announced by FINA.

Athletes from five continents and 31 countries qualified for the Olympic 10K based on their performances at the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai and the recent Olympic qualifier in Portugal. Usually these qualifications led to a formal invitation. The invitation is usually accepted and the athletes represent their country at the Olympics.

Swim fast, qualify in the top echelon and Olympic dreams are realized.

That is conventional wisdom.

But the qualification process and the invitation acceptance for the open water swimmers at the Olympics is unconventional. The rules are unlike pool swimming. The process was developed to enable as many countries around the world to be represented in the Olympic marathon swim. This process is considered to be one of the reasons for the explosive global growth of the sport. For the London Olympic Games, swimmers from Greece, Germany, Russia, USA, Australia, Spain, Belgium, France, Tunisia, Canada, Bulgaria, Italy, South Africa, Japan, Ukraine, Ecuador, Portugal, Kazakhstan, Venezuela, Hungary, New Zealand, Egypt, Great Britain, Brazil, Czech Republic, Switzerland, China, Poland, Croatia, Hong Kong, and Malaysia qualified.

On the face of it, the qualification process served its purpose and met its goal.

But not everything turned out to be perfect and clear-cut in the open water world.

Problem occurs when the national governing bodies of certain qualified athletes declined the invitation to swim at the Olympics. Similar to Israel at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, both New Zealand and the Netherlands turned down the invitations extended to their top athletes to participate in the 2012 Olympic 10K Marathon Swim in London.

This is where the qualification process is ambiguous and subject to interpretation. While it was not the intention of FINA, the qualification process simply does not specifically spell out what athletes should be extended the 25th and final invitation to the Olympic 10K. At this time, athletes from Mexico, Ireland and Guam are anxiously waiting for an official decision from FINA if they will receive an invitation.

On the men’s side, the four athletes in question involve Csaba Gercsak of Hungary (who finished 14th in 1:46:30.7 in the FINA Olympic Marathon Swim Qualifier in Portugal), Chris Bryan of Ireland (who finished 15th in 1:46:30.7), Kane Radford of New Zealand (who finished 27th in 1:47:02.7) and Benjamin Schulte of Guam (who finished 52nd in 2:00:56.4). When Swimming New Zealand declined the invitation extended to Radford, this opened up the 25th and final spot to the next swimmer on the list. Depending on the interpretation of the rules, either Bryan of Ireland or Schulte of Guam are eligible. Schulte would receive the invitation if FINA rules that the “next available swimmer” should be the Oceania Continental Representative since Schulte was the next fastest swimmer from Oceania after Radford. On the other hand, Bryan would receive the invitation if FINA rules that the next available swimmer should be the next fastest swimmer on the list since he was barely edged out for the European Continental Representative by Gercsak.

In the cruel world of sports, Gercsak and Bryan were given the exact same finish time in one of the closest races in Olympic qualification history, but according to the video cameras that capture the images down to the 1000th of a second, Gercsak just barely edged out Bryan by the slimmest of margins.

On the women’s side, the three athletes in question involve Cara Baker of New Zealand (who finished 17th in 1:45:06.1), Linsy Heister of the Netherlands (who finish 16th in 1:45:06.0) and Lizeth Rueda Santos of Mexico (who finished 19th in 1:46:06.6). When Swimming New Zealand declined the invitation extended to Baker, and Royal Dutch Swimming Federation subsequently declined the invitation to Heister, this opened up the possibility of Rueda Santos will be invited as the next available swimmer since there were no other Oceania representatives in the qualifier.

FINA will soon make its decision which one of these athletes are invited – and which ones will stay home to watch.

Stay tuned, but these athletes will be in London:

1. Keri-Anne Payne (GBR)
2. Martina Grimaldi (ITA)
3. Marianna Lymperta (GRE)
4. Melissa Gorman (AUS)
5. Cecilia Biagioli (ITA)
6. Poliana Okimoto (BRA)
7. Jana Pechanova (CZE)
8. Angela Maurer (GER)
9. Swann Oberson (SUI)
10. Erika Villaecija (ESP)
11. Haley Anderson (USA)
12. Eva Risztov (HUN)
13. Yanqiao Fang (CHN)
14. Zsofia Balazs (CAN)
15. Ophelie Aspord (FRA)
16. Natalia Charlos (POL)
17. Anna Guseva (RUS)
18. Karla Sitic (CRO)
19. Wing Yung Natasha Terri Tang (HKG)
20. Yumi Kida (JPN)
21. Olga Beresnyeva (UKR)
22. Yanel Pinto (VEN)
23. Heidi Gan (MAS)
24. Jessica Roux (RSA)
25. ?

1. Spyridon Gianniotis (GRE)
2. Thomas Lurz (GER)
3. Sergey Bolshakov (RUS)
4. Alex Meyer (USA)
5. Ky Hurst (AUS)
6. Francisco Jose Hervas (ESP)
7. Brian Ryckeman (BEL)
8. Julien Sauvage (FRA)
9. Vladimir Dyatchin (RUS)
10. Andreas Waschburger (GER)
11. Oussama Mellouli (TUN)
12. Richard Weinberger (CAN)
13. Petar Stoychev (BUL)
14. Valerio Cleri (ITA)
15. Troyden Prinsloo (RSA)
16. Yasunari Hirai (JPN)
17. Igor Chervynskiy (UKR)
18. Ivan Enderica Ochoa (ECU)
19. Arseniy Lavrentyev (POR)
20. Yuriy Kudinov (KAZ)
21. Erwin Maldonado (VEN)
22. Csaba Gercsak (HUN)
23. Mazen Aziz (EGY)
24. Daniel Fogg (GBR)
25. ?

Photo courtesy of Dr. Jim Miller. Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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