Russia is currently one of the strongest countries in open water swimming with a numerous medals and victories over the last 15 years in world-class competitions.
Where did it all start?
You can point to Aleksey Akatyev (Alexei Akatiev). Aleksey was the first successful Russian marathon open water swimmer to make the transition from a world-class pool swimmer to a world-class open water swimmer.
After competing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics in Atlanta in the 400 meters and 1500 meters where he finished 14th and 8th respectively, he ventured outdoors and truly found his niche in the open water. Within two years, Aleksey accomplished an incredible feat at the 1998 World Swimming Championships in Perth where he won the 5K and 25K races (note: the 10K had not yet been added to the FINA schedule). Aleksey won the 5K over a stellar field that included such open water stars such as Ky Hurst of Australia, Luca Baldini of Italy, David Meca of Spain, Stephane Lecat of France and Christof Wandratsch of Germany.
After winning the sprint event of open water, Aleksey then won the 25K race over another accomplished field that included David Meca and countryman (and one of the fastest English Channel swimmers of all time) Yuri Kudinov.
Aleksey later established an open water school in Russia with his coach Sergey Kustov in Russia. Aleksey continues to support the sport by serving in various roles including as a referee.
For the current generation of outstanding Russian swimmers, including Olympic champion Larisa Ilchenko and world champion Vladimir Dyatchin, Aleksey remains an example of the first crossover athlete who transferred his talents from the pool to the open water where he reached the pinnacle of his aquatic success.
After the sudden death of his coach of 15 years, Sergei Kustov, Aleksey stepped into the role of coach and led the Russian team at world championship events in Honolulu and Fukuoka. In Honolulu at the 2000 World Open Water Swimming Championships, he not only coached the team (including 5K gold medalist Yevgeny Bezruchenko and 25K gold medalist Yuri Kudinov, but he also swam to a bronze medal in the 25K, just over a minute slower than the swimmer he was coaching. Talk about the pressures of coaching and swimming a 25K, especially in the rough water of Hawaii!
Aleksey's overall open water swimming record stands as follows:
FINA World Championships: 1994 25K bronze, 1998 5K gold, 1998 25K gold, 1998 5K team silver, 2000 25K bronze
LEN European Championships: 1995 5K gold, 1995 25K gold, 1996 5K gold, 1996 25K gold, 1999 5K silver, 1999 25K gold.
FINA World Cup Series: 1999 30K gold in Lake Ohrid (Macedonia), 2000 25K gold in Bled (Slovenia), 2000 30K bronze in Lake Ohrid (Macedonia)
Photos courtesy of Evgeni Bezruchenko.
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