2011 European Open Water Swimming Championships / September 7-11

25km titles to Brian Ryckeman and Alice Franco – First ever Open Water Gold medal to Belgium – Italy winner of the LEN Championships Trophy

Eilat (pps) Alice Franco and Brian Ryckeman earned the last two titles at the 2011 European Open Water Swimming Championships held in Eilat (ISR) on Sunday, fighting against strong winds. In the 25km races, which started as early at 07:00 hrs in the morning, Belgium’s Ryckeman succeeded in the men’s 25km, clocking 5h05min02.2sec, ahead of World Champion Petar Stoychev of Bulgaria (5h05min06.6sec) and Joanes Hedel of France (5h05min18.3sec). Gold in the Women’s 25km went to Italy’s Alice Franco who clocked 5h26min23.6sec, Silver and Bronze went to Margarita Dominguez of Spain (5h26min42.7sec) and Czech Jana Pechanova (5:26.44.2sec.) respectively.

21 LEN member federations participated and ten different nations shared the 21 medals at stake. Among the highlights were the first Open Water Swimming Medal ever for the Israel Swimming Association and the first Gold medal for Belgium, as well as the magnificent performance by Italy as the most successful nation winning the LEN Championships Trophy with five Gold medals. The competition was very well organised and was swum under optimal weather conditions. The European Swimming Federation (LEN) and the local organisers drew very positive conclusions after the last competition day.

First Podium for Ryckeman / First Open Water Gold medal for Belgium

During the first seven of eight laps (each measured 3125m) all participants in the men’s 25km swam in one pack. About 500m before the finish Petar Stoychev (BUL) and Brian Ryckeman (BEL) were able to get away and take the lead. With 200m to go, Joanes Hedel escaped the pack as well. At the last buoy Ryckeman got in front and was able to beat Stoychev clearly by two body lengths. Hedel finished in third position with a clear gap behind Ryckeman and Stoychev.

It is Brian Ryckeman’s first podium at this level in his career, simultaneously it is Belgium’s first ever Open Water Gold medal at World or European Championships. Only his compatriot Annemie Landmeters had won a Bronze medal in the Women’s 25km at the 1989 European Championships in Starigrad (former Yugoslavia). “I saved my energy during the first seven laps and felt that I was in good shape today. I knew that to win the race, I had to be in front at the last buoy. So I did just that and was able to control Petar Stoychev at the finish”, disclosed the 27-year-old from Oostende, who had finished twice in seventh position - at the 2008 Olympic as well as at the 2011 World Championships 10km race.

Petar Stoychev, “series winner” of the overall FINA Grand Prix standings had set his sights on another Gold medal in Eilat after he grabbed the World Championship title in Shanghai seven weeks ago. But the Bulgarian, who is coached in Wuerzburg by Stefan Lurz, was not disappointed at all. “Next month I will turn 35! And apart from that, it is my fifth race already during the past two months lasting more than five hours... So I was a little bit tired. I pushed from time to time to test Brian Ryckeman’s reaction. But I realised that he was stronger than me today”, concluded Stoychev, together with Czech Rostislav Vitek (both born in 1976) the oldest competitor in Eilat.

Joanes Hedel, 2008 European runner-up and 2010 European Bronze medallist in the 25km, earned the third Bronze medal for France in Eilat – somewhat to his own surprise. “As I did not feel too well, I decided to swim quietly within the pack. After a while I managed to get near the front, just behind Petar Stoychev and Brian Ryckeman. Increasing my speed made me feel better, but when both (further) increased their speed towards the end of the race, I failed to follow. I put all of my energy to hold the lead of the remaining pack and then to pull out in front, aiming at the third place”, disclosed the 31-year-old from Lille.

Alice Franco wins 5th Gold for Italy / Pechanova’s last 25km race

It was mainly Italy’s Martina Grimaldi who lead the pack during the first seven laps. But then everyone was in for a big surprise: Grimaldi was shown the red flag at the feeding pontoon right ahead of the last lap. Alice Franco (ITA) then took over the lead. During the first half of the eight laps the pack had several leaders before five swimmers then went ahead. Franco managed to get out of this pack, alone in front, 1000m before the finish. She won with a margin of 19.1 seconds. Margarita Dominguez and Jana Pechanova fought hard for 2nd and 3rd place, but eventually Dominguez took Silver, just 1.5 seconds ahead of Pechanova.

Alice Franco thus achieved an excellent performance once again after the World Bronze medal in Shanghai although she profited from the disqualification of compatriot Martina Grimaldi. “This course has a nice setting, but today it was windy and we had to fight against a lot of waves. Martina and myself, as well as others, led the pack. But most of the time I swam just behind Martina. At the beginning of the last lap I noticed that she was no longer with us and I did not understand why. When the race became harder in the last lap, I then decided to go in front on my own, trying to keep it up until the end”, disclosed the 22-year-old from Asti, who won her first career Gold medal in Eilat.

“What a tough race! Waves and wind... Alice Franco was too strong during the last lap, so I decided to save my energy, toying with the idea of a possible Silver or Bronze”, said 24-year-old Silver medallist Margarita Dominguez from Spain, who already won the European 25km title in Dubrovnik in 2008.

In Eilat, Jana Pechanova (CZE) demonstrated once again that she really is in good shape at the moment. After the 5km Silver medal she again surprised with another Bronze in “her last 25km race”, as she announced after the finish. “My 25km career ends with a Bronze medal. This was my last 25km here. This event is too long for me... Nobody wanted to take the lead during the first laps today and the real race started only during the last lap”, said 30-year-old Pechanova.

Statistics – All Medal Winners

Women’s 5km
1. Rachele Bruni ITA 55min51.0sec
2. Jana Pechanova CZE 57min06.0sec
3. Coralie Codevelle FRA 57min16.7sec

Women’s 10km
1. Martina Grimaldi ITA 2h00min18.6sec
2. Rachele Bruni ITA 2h00min19.2sec
3. Nadine Reichert GER 2h00min20.0sec

Women’s 25km
1. Alice Franco ITA 5h26min23.6sec
2. Margarita Dominguez ESP 5h26min42.7sec
3. Jana Pechanova CZE 5h26min44.2sec

Men’s 5km
1. Simone Ercoli ITA 53min34.9sec
2. Jan Wolfgarten GER 53min39.0sec
3. Michael Dmitriev ISR 54min03.5sec

Men’s 10km
1. Thomas Lurz GER 1h53min18.2sec
2. Vladimir Dyatchin RUS 1h53min20.0sec
3. Igor Snitko UKR 1h53min21.5sec

Men’s 25km
1. Brian Ryckeman BEL 5h05min02.2sec
2. Petar Stoychev BUL 5h05min06.6sec
3. Joanes Hedel FRA 5h05min18.3sec

Team event 5km
1. Italy (Simone Ercoli, Luca Ferretti, Rachele Bruni) 56min12.4sec
2. Germany (Hendrik Rijkens, Rob Muffels, Svenja Zihsler) 57min15.2sec
3. France (Sebastian Fraysse, Damien Cattin Vidal, Coralie Codevelle) 57min41.1sec

Final Medal Table after 7 competitions
(5+10+25km Women, 5+10+25km Men, 5km Team Event)

Nation Gold Silver Bronze Total
1. Italy 5 1 0 6
2. Germany 1 2 1 4
3. Belgium 1 0 0 1
4. Czech Republic 0 1 1 2
5. Bulgaria 0 1 0 1
Spain 0 1 0 1
Russia 0 1 0 1
8. France 0 0 3 3
9. Israel 0 0 1 1
Ukraine 0 0 1 1
7 7 7 21