27-year-old Valerio Cleri of Italy has always been competitive on the world's stage, from his 4th place in the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim to a silver medal in the 10K at the 2006 World Open Water Swimming Championships, but he has never stood on top of the awards podium despite a long career of competing against the world's best.
Cleri finally achieved a gold medal performance in the 25K at the European Open Water Swimming Championships in dominating fashion. He won with a nearly 4-minute victory over Frances' Joanes Hedeal, Russia's Dmitry Solovyev and 13 other competitors.
Cleri won in 4 hour 29 minute time, over 30 minutes faster than most world championhip 25K races. Either the course was short or the swimmers greatly benefitted from the strong winds at their back on the first half of the course. But, like most marathon swims, the swimmers were bound to face some natural obstacles when oncoming waves picked up and a torrential rain slowed the field during the second part of the course.
"This was my first ever international 25K competition. After winning the European title, I shall certainly focus more on the 25K in the future. My tactics were to stay among the leading group in the first half and to attack and throw my competitors off on the return half. The waves on the last part suited me well, because they do not bother me at all," said Cleri.
Relative newcomer Hedel, who finished second in 4:32:40.9, said, "The way out to the turning buoy was quite okay, but as soon as we came back we had to fight the waves. It was really very difficult to get back to the finish line. At about 15K, I attacked and since then I was on my own. It was a true solo effort. I even didn’t know my position. Only at the arrival I saw that I was second. I’m a beginner, this is just the third 25km competition in my life."
Bronze medalist Solovyev said, "Third place is a great surprise to me. I would never have reckoned to win a medal here. Particularly towards the end of the race the conditions were very tough. You could almost lose orientation in the three to four metres high waves. But fortunately I didn’t."
All sky-view photos of the pack taken by Giorgio Scala of Deepbluemedia.