They tossed around elbows that would have made an NBA player proud. They whacked each other with wind-milling arms. They bumped into each other as if they were drivers at a NASCAR race, but it was just another day on the open water at the FINA Swimming World Championships.
Brazilians Poliana Okimoto and Ana Marcela Cunha claimed gold and silver respectively in the 10km race on Tuesday in the Barcelona tournament, a rough event that two-time winner Keri-Anne Payne described as “absolute carnage.”
Okimoto and Cunha pulled away from the pack after making the final turn on the palm tree-lined course set up in Barcelona’s Port Vell.
Okimoto, who narrowly lost her first event of the championships to the US’ Haley Anderson, reached up to slap the timing device just 0.3 seconds ahead of her countrywoman.
Germany’s Angela Maurer took third, one second behind the winner after a race that took nearly two hours to complete.
Payne, who was world champion in this event in both 2009 and 2011, faded to 14th. The British swimmer’s chances ended when she got mauled in a group trying to negotiate one of the tight turns around a buoy.
“I’m so disappointed that girls can be that rough during the race and get away with it,” said Payne, who wound up more than six seconds behind the winner. “It was absolutely brutal.”
With swimmers competing together in a pack, unlike the neatly divided lanes of pool events, open water can look more like roller derby in the water as competitors jostle for position.
Payne said things got out of control as 53 swimmers — more than twice as large as an Olympic field — competed on a narrow course roughly the shape of a “U” with a series of sharp turns.
“I got hit in the face. I got pushed over. I got swum over,” Payne said. “The referees calling the race said they were going to be really strict, but I don’t think they were strict enough, to be honest. I don’t think the race should be won by who’s got the biggest elbows or who can dunk somebody, you know what mean? It should be done on skill and agility. Maybe that’s just the part I’m not very good at. I’m not good at fighting people.”
The Brazilians had no complaints.
They are hoping to use the worlds as a springboard to a strong showing at their home Olympics, the 2016 Rio Games. Okimoto and Cunha have been on the podium in the first two women’s events, taking silver and bronze in the 5km.
“There are no secrets,” Okimoto said through a translator. “We’ve got support now from our sponsors and our federation, so all we have to do is keep training and training for 2016.”
The winning time was 1 hour, 58 minutes, 19.2 seconds on a day when the air temperature rose into the mid-30s, but the water measured about 25.5?C before the start, not a problem for a sport still dealing with the fallout from American Fran Crippen’s death nearly three years ago in a race held in the sweltering Middle East.
Elsewhere on Day 4 of the championships, China kept up its expected domination of diving with two more gold medals at the Piscina Municipal de Montjuic, which gives fans and competitors a stunning view of the city below.
He Zi won her second world title in the women’s 1m springboard, edging Tania Cagnotto of Italy by 0.10 points after executing a nearly flawless final dive. The margin was the smallest to decide a gold medal in men’s or women’s diving at any worlds.