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Canada achieves Top 12 goal as open water competition begins

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BUDAPEST, Hungary – Canada finished 11th in the 6-kilometre relay as open water competition began Sunday at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

Eric Brown anchored the four-swimmer race for Canada, touching in 11th in a battle with Turkey’s Emir Batur Albayrak, who was 1.5 seconds behind.

“I’m really happy I was able to not let that guy pass me at the end. I’m happy with that race but it was really hard,” said the 19-year-old from Montreal’s Pointe-Claire Swim Club, the oldest member of Canada’s all-teen team. 

Florian Wellbrock clinched the win for Germany, which won in 1:04:40.5, 2.5 seconds ahead of second-place Hungary. Kristof Rasovszky out-touched Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri in a photo finish for silver at Lupa Beach. Canada ended up 2:54.2 behind the lead.

Swimming Canada Distance/Open Water Coach Mark Perry was happy with his young team’s performance, which featured three senior national team rookies.

“They’re certainly one of the most inexperienced teams here so we talked about a Top 12 finish being a great result for us. Coming 11th, and Eric had to fight for 11th at the end there, was a really strong performance from all four of them,” Perry said. 

Katrina Bellio of Etobicoke Swimming, fresh off competing in the pool, opened the relay, putting Canada in 16th place

“I think it was a good way to get myself introduced into open water swimming, and hopefully sets me up well for the 10-km (Wednesday),” said Bellio, a Tokyo 2020 Olympian in the pool. “It’s definitely a new type of racing, that’s for sure.”

Alexander Axon of Markham Aquatic Club followed, moving Canada up to 11th in his national team debut. That got Canada within 1:17.3 of Germany, which moved into first at the halfway mark thanks to Oliver Klemet.

“I’m really proud of the team putting in a good effort,” Axon said. “We’ve got some young guys and girls on the team, so I think moving forward, it’s only up from there. Being underdogs and coming close to Top 10 is a really strong performance.”

Fellow rookie Emma Finlin of Edmonton Keyano Swim Club swam third, dropping back one position to 12th, just under two minutes behind Hungary, which moved into the lead thanks to David Betlehem.

“I just tried to hold the spot that I was in and I’m pretty happy with it,” Finlin said

The team improved on its 13th-place finish from the event at the 2019 world in Gwangju, Korea, a team that produced Tokyo 2020 Olympians Hau-Li Fan and Kate Sanderson. 

“Following on being in the hotel with the pool team and the really good culture that’s developed, we’ve continued that through with the open water team,” Perry said. “The staff and the athletes have been superb and we’ll continue that through to the end of the competition.”

Next up is the 5-km races Monday. Axon will be back in action in the men’s race beginning at 3 a.m. ET, with Finlin and Abby Dunford set to compete in the women’s at 5 a.m. ET. 

The 27 Canadian pool swimmers finished their eight-day meet Saturday with a Canadian record total of 11 medals. The world championships run through Sunday, with Canada competing in the 5-km races Monday, and 10-km Wednesday.

Full results: Competition Schedule | FINA Official