Valerio Cleri didn’t need to protest this time. The Italian won the 25km open water marathon race by a clear margin on Saturday, giving host Italy its first gold medal of the swimming world championships.
Swimming through large waves and high swells, Cleri pulled away from Australia’s Trent Grimsey in the final kilometer.
Cleri clocked a grueling 5 hours, 26 minutes and 31.6 seconds in the sea course off Rome’s ancient port of Ostia, with enough of a lead on Grimsey to start celebrating before he slapped the finish banner.
Grimsey took the silver medal, 19.1 seconds behind, and Vladimir Dyatchin of Russia was third, nearly three minutes back, for his fifth medal at worlds.
Cleri finished fourth in the 10km race on Wednesday but the Italian team protested because third-place finisher Fran Crippen of the US swam outside a buoy and ropes guiding swimmers to the finish.
The protest was accepted but Crippen kept the medal when the Americans won an appeal.
“I built up a lot of nervous energy from the other day,” Cleri said. “The past few days were tough from a mental standpoint.”
Angela Maurer of Germany won the women’s race in 5 hours, 47 minutes and 48 seconds. Anna Uvarova of Russia took the silver medal, touching 3.8 seconds later, and Federica Vitale of Italy was third, 4.7 seconds back.
It was Maurer’s fourth medal at worlds, but her first gold.
At times, swimmers had to dive through high waves or risk being driven back to the beach. Boats bobbled up and down in the surf and many competitors removed their swim caps to deal with severe heat, making it nearly impossible for the thousands of spectators watching from the shore to identify them.
“With such rough seas, it was a very technical race. I trained all year to win this race and I’m not surprised I won,” Cleri said. “For two days all I thought about was this race and the interview after the race. I had a lot I wanted to say and now I can’t remember any of it.”
Every now and then, the lead swimmer would pull up, do a few backstrokes and let someone else take over in front. Competitors also stopped occasionally to eat a nutritional bar or simply regain their strength.
Alex Meyer of the US received a red card and was disqualified for swimming over the legs of a female swimmer.
Zaira Cardenas of Mexico withdrew midway through the women’s race and was treated for an apparent jellyfish sting. Kate Brookes-Peterson of Australia came ashore at the 15km mark, struggling with dehydration, fatigue and bruises from other swimmers.