Another planet: Wellbrock romps to win in swimming marathon
TOKYO (AP) — All behind Florian Wellbrock, there was the sort of carnage that epitomizes open water swimming.
One athlete carted off on a stretcher. Another taking an elbow to the eye.
Wellbrock didn’t have to worry about any of it. He was swimming a race of his own.
Essentially leading from start to finish, the 23-year-old German blew away the field to win by the largest margin in the history of the Olympic 10-kilometer marathon at sweltering Tokyo Bay on Thursday.
Wellbrock pulled off the pool-open water double, adding to the bronze he won Sunday in the 1,500 freestyle at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.
“A little bit unreal,” he said. “The first seven (kilometers) of this race felt really easy. My competitors had to work really hard behind me.”
Wellbrock took off like a sprinter at the start, was up front most of the way and blew away everyone at the end to win by 25.3 seconds.
For comparison’s sake, the 2016 men’s marathon was decided by less than a second.
“Florian was on another planet today,” said the bronze medalist, Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy.
Paltrinieri also won medals at the both the pool and in open water, having claimed silver in the 800 freestyle. He and Wellbrock joined Ous Mellouli of Tunisia as the only swimmers to pull off that feat.
Competing in his sixth Olympics at age 37, Mellouli finished 20th out of 24 swimmers who completed the race. He was nearly 8 minutes behind Wellbrock.
“Florian is a superstar,” Mellouli said.
Kristof Rasovszky of Hungary wound up with the silver. He knew that was the best he could do.
“Florian was unbeatable today,” Rasovszky said. “I tried to be the best of the rest.”
Even with the race starting at 6:30 a.m., the temperature was already 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27.2 Celsius) with 80% humidity, making it feel like close to 90 degrees. Unlike the women’s race the previous day, there were no clouds to mitigate the heat.
The stifling conditions got to David Aubry of France, who dropped out with about 3 kilometers remaining and was carried off the deck on a stretcher. French officials said a shoulder injury hampered his training leading up to the race, so his fitness wasn’t good enough to handle the heat and Wellbrock’s pace.
Aubry was feeling better after receiving treatment in the medical facility.
Hector Pardoe of Britain also failed to finish after being elbowed in the right eye. His goggles were knocked off, and he emerged from the water with a nasty gash and a swollen eye.
“My goggles were completely snapped off and I couldn’t see a thing,” Pardoe said. “I didn’t realize how bad it was. It was all blurry in my eye.”
Wellbrock, the reigning world champion, finished in 1 hour, 48 minutes, 33.7 seconds. It was easily the largest margin of victory in the Olympic marathon swimming, which was added to the program at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Rasovsky finished in 1:48.59.0, just ahead of Paltrinieri at 1:49.01.1. The Italian had no complaints after bouncing back from a bout with mononucleosis shortly before the games.
Defending Olympic marathon champion Ferry Weertman of the Netherlands finished seventh, while American Jordan Wilimovsky was 10th.
Wellbrock stunned the field by opening up more than a 10-second lead in the first kilometer. Everyone else had to work hard just to keep up, which paid off at the end when no one had enough energy to mount a comeback.
“It was surprising,” said Paltrinieri, sitting beside the winner afterward. “I didn’t even notice (Wellbrock’s big lead) until my coach told me I was about 30 seconds behind this guy. I started to close the gap a little bit, but it was really hard.”
After Wellbrock made the final turn around a red buoy at the far end of the course, his coaches were already cheering and celebrating on the deck. They knew it was over.
Wellbrock slapped the timing pad, climbed from the water and sprawled out on the deck, pouring water on his chest under the blazing sun.
It was a far cry from the 2016 race at Rio de Janeiro, where Weertman beat Spyridon Gianniotis of Greece by just 0.7 seconds in a photo finish. The top 19 in that event all finished closer to the lead than Rasovsky’s margin behind Wellbrock.
In three previous men’s marathon races, the largest margin of victory was 3.4 seconds by Mellouli at the 2012 London Games.
This story has been corrected to show that Ous Mellouli is competing in his sixth, not fifth, Olympics.
Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and sports columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry
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