Sunday, January 20, 2008

10K Open Water Swimming Favorites: Expect the Unexpected

The anticipation over the first Olympic 10km Marathon Swim is building among aquatic aficionados. Who is going to knock off Australia's Grant Hackett, the fastest and most dominant distance swimmer in history?

Is Hackett going to push the pace and challenge everyone to match his abilities, especially over the last 1000 meters where he is demonstrably the fastest swimmer by far? Is Hackett going to sit back and bid his time, playing with the field until the last 2.5K loop, like he did at the 2007 Australian Open Water Championships? Is he going to make sure he is the first person to the last buoy, preventing anyone from going around his 6'-8" (197 cm) frame? Even if he is not leading in the final sprint, can any open water swimmer match the speed of the 4th fastest 200-meter swimmer or the 2nd fastest 400-meter swimmer of all time?

In the words of ESPN's Chris Berman, "that's why they play the game."

The incredibly tough and cagey Russian Vladimir Dyatchin is not traveling the world to defend his world's 10K titles just to settle for a silver medal. The indomitable open water warrior from Germany, Thomas Lurz, is not training hard every day and aiming for a bronze medal. They all know one maxim is true in open water: Expect the Unexpected.

But how are the world's most experienced open water swimmers going to compete against a mountain of a man who can outsprint them over any given short distance and outlast them over any given long distance?

Firstly, the water and weather conditions will be warmer than anything that Hackett has recently faced - and he traditionally swims in a full body suit - which may increase his core body temperature to unfamiliar levels.

Secondly, is Dyatchin's teammate going to serve as a domestique for his Russian partner? Is Lurz going to benefit from his German teammate protecting him on one side and helping him around the turn buoys? Some open water swimming observers say ‘yes' to both questions. Of course, nothing is preventing Hackett and his Australian mate, Ky Hurst, from working together to optimize Hackett's position in the lead pack.

Thirdly, Hackett will be a marked man and he will be too large a target, both literally and figuratively, to escape notice throughout the race. Any time Hackett makes a move, his competitors will undoubtedly react.

Fourthly, Dyatchin, Lurz and their counterparts are battle-worn open water swimmers; with literally kilometers of experience fighting through leg pulls, elbow swings and underwater retaliations during 10K races around the world. If Hackett is caught on the inside or squeezed in the middle between surging competitors, can he keep his composure and simply swim away?
Only time will tell, but Hackett, Dyatchin and Lurz should be among the leaders down the final stretch. As for the medal predictions, Expect the Unexpected.

Some believe a dark horse is going to pull off an incredibly exciting sprint to become the first Olympic 10K gold medalist - and for the top 10 athletes to finish within 6 seconds of the eventual winner.

Coming up: Who are the dark horses?

Copyright © 2008 by World Open Water Swimming Association

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