OPEN WATER SWIMMING

THE COMPETITION

Men and women compete over the distances of 5, 10 and 25km while in the team event two males and females per team swim a 4x1250m relay. All events have mass starts and swimmers are required to cover the distances over laps maked by buoys (one lap is usually 2.5km long but based on the local circumstances it can also be 1.25km).

Open water events can only be held in still waters (so rivers or venues with bigger currents are excluded), though depending on the location it can be either sweet or salt water. Practically only the water temperature can be an issue at an event – according to the present day rules it has to be between 16C and 31C at international events (MASTERS 18C and 31C). Race officals can also opt for postponing or cancelling a race in case of high waves too.

Open water races sometimes don’t lack toughness from the competitors who might have body-contacts especially at turns though the rules forbids the swimmers to withhold their rivals by any moves. The most serious offences are punished by yellow cards and in case of committing another fault any swimmer can be disqualified from the race (as it happened at the Rio Olympics where two top athletes lost its respective medals due to alleged illegal moves in the finish).

THE HISTORY

The origins of modern-day open water swimming dates back to 3 May 1810 when Lord Byron covered several miles to cross the Dardanellas and get to Asia from Europe. In fact the first swimming races at the Olympics in 1896 were held in open water. As a classical Olympic event, open water (called marathon swimming) made its debut in Beijing 2008 (at the Games only the 10km event is held). World and European Championships welcomed open water swimmers much earlier. LEN organised a separate open water championships  in 1989, then the discipline became part of the ‘big show’ in 1995. It’s interesting, that at the Worlds for a couple of editions only the 25km represented open water swimming, while at the Europeans 5km and 25km debuted in the Vienna edition, today’s most popular distance, the 10km appeared in the programme in Berlin 2002 for the first time.

THE BESTS IN EUROPE

Top swimmers of the Old Continent are the true rulers of the global landscape as well. European males grabbed eight of the nine individual medals on offer in Gwangju and eight of the ten available Olympic berth but females are also pretty strong.

One of the top swimmers is Hungary’s Kristof Rasovszky who wrote history in Glasgow 2018 by becoming the first male swimmer who clinched medals in all three individual events in the same edition (came first in 5km and 25km and finished second by 0.04sec in the 10km). Olympic, world and European champion genius of the Netherlands, Ferry Weertman, the new prodigy from Germany Florian Wellbrock – who snatched a historical pair of world titles in open water (10km) and in the pool (1500m) in 2019 – and France’s multiple world and European champion Marc-Antoine Olivier are the front runners (rather swimmers).

Among the women one of the biggest stars it Dutchwoman Sharon van Rouwendaal who became Olympic champion in Rio and only a missed buoy prevented her from sweeping all four golds in Glasgow 2018. France’s usual medal-contender Aurie Muller (though she is somewhat cursed at the Olympics), the two Italian greats who train together and sometimes stage outstanding duels in competitions, Arianna Bridi and Rachele Bruni have been the protagonists in recent majors but Germany’s Leonie Beck has also emerged among the favourites in the past seasons.

THE DISCIPLINE IN HUNGARY

Though because of the distances of the events Alfred Hajos’ historical first Olympic wins are listed among the medals of pool swimming, but if consider the conditions, especially in the 1200m race, might well be regarded the very first open water triumph as he came first in the cold (12C) sea water, starting in giant waves outside the bay area in Athens.

Successes ‘officially’ arrived as well once open water swimming had been recognised as a new discipline as Hungary had some great pioneers in the early 90s. At the first official LEN European Championships in 1989, Rita Lázár triumphed, then Rita Kovacs’s world silver in 1994, a year later she claimed a European gold in Vienna in the 5km event. And she was the one who gave further boost to promote open water in Hungary as she still managed to finish runner-up at the 2006 Europeans held in Balatonalmadi.

The first World Championship medal in the men’s competition came a bit unexpectedly in 2011 when Csaba Gercsak was a surprise bronze medallist of the 25km race in Shanghai. It was followed by the absolute highlight, Eva Risztov’s magnificent win at the London Olympics – she just restarted her career two years earlier and finished atop in the marathon. She could add a European silver in Berlin 2014, where Anna Olasz also came second in the 25km – a feat she repeated next year at the Kazan Worlds.

Hungary’s rise was marked by some fine placements at the home Worlds in 2017, then Kristof Rasovszky’s outstanding performance in Glasgow 2018 is considered the beginning of a new era. Since then the Balaton Shark claimed his first world title in Gwangju (over 5km), he won the overall title in the 2019 World Series while the Hungarian youngsters usually finished among the top nations of age-group majors in the last three years, what’s more, they finally topped the Championship Trophy ranks in 2019 so the future looks just as bright.

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Most successful nations at the LEN EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS in open water swimming*

* Total medals won during the history of the LEN European Aquatics Championships (open water swimming has been part of the event since 1995 with the event held in Vienna)

0
GER
0
ITA
0
RUS

* Total medals won during the history of the LEN European Aquatics Championships (open water swimming has been part of the event since 1995 with the event held in Vienna)

0
GER
0
ITA
0
RUS