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Canadian teens compete in 5-km open water

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BUDAPEST, Hungary – Canada’s young team gained valuable experience as open water competition continued Monday at the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

Emma Finlin of Edmonton Keyano Swim Club was Canada’s top finisher in the 5-kilometre distance, coming 28th while Regina native Abby Dunford was close behind in 31st. Alexander Axon of Markham Aquatic Club finished 33rd in the men’s event at Lupa Beach.

Brazilian Ana Marcela Cunha won the women’s race in 57:52.9, followed by France’s Aurelie Muller 0.9 seconds behind, and Italian Giulia Gabbrielleschi 1.1 seconds later. Finlin, 17, finished 3:08.4 behind the leader.

The Canadian women moved between the teens and 20s in the first half of the three-lap race, often swimming close together. The pair picked up the pace on the back half, with Dunford moving forward to 14th at the 3.2-km mark, followed by Finlin about 5.5 seconds behind in 18th.

Finlin, who made her senior national team debut in Sunday’s 6-km relay, finished in a group of 13 swimmers all within 10 seconds of each other battling for 16th to 28th place.

“That was a really cool experience. It was my longest open water race so it was much different from the 1,500,” said Finlin, sporting a scratch near her left eye from some contact in the pack.

“I learned that you can be quite aggressive in open water. I wasn’t quite prepared for that, so it was definitely a learning experience,” she said with a laugh. “I think I can do some more open water in my future.”

Dunford, meanwhile, fell back on the final kilometre and finished 7.6 seconds behind her teammate.

“For sure the biggest mistake I made is I pushed myself too early. On that second lap I went too hard and that ended up messing me up for the third lap,” said the 16-year-old, whose maiden race with the national team came last week in the pool.

“Overall it was a great experience. I learned a lot off of it and I think as my 5-km world championships debut I did a really good job,” Dunford said.

Axon, who made his national team debut swimming one of the four legs of Sunday’s 6-km relay event, tried to stay with the front pack early before gradually sliding back into the high 20s to low 30s

“It was a good experience, I just struggled coming off that relay. I did absolutely everything in my power to take care of myself last night and yesterday during the afternoon to recover as best I can. But it just was not there this morning,” said the 19-year-old. “I’m the fittest I’ve ever been in my life so I’m a little bummed out with that performance.”

German Florian Wellbrock was the winner in 52:48.8, with Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri 3.9 seconds behind and Mykhailo Romanchuk of Ukraine 25.1 seconds off the pace for bronze. Axon finished 5:32.7 behind the leader.

Axon was the 11th-youngest man in the 61-swimmer field, and only three younger swimmers finished ahead of him.

“Age isn’t a thing on the senior scale, so I’ve got to get in there with the boys and race them, regardless of whether they’re 10 years older than me or five years older than me or 20 more open water world champs under their belt, it doesn’t matter,” Axon said.

Dunford, 16, and Finlin, 17, were the sixth- and eighth-youngest competitors in the 56-swimmer women’s field. Only two younger swimmers finished ahead of them.

“I think coming in we knew we had a young, very inexperienced squad, some in their first open water races or in their ever world championships,” said Swimming Canada Distance/Open Water Coach Mark Perry. “Going through the process they’ve been very professional. They all did some good things in those races and they all made some mistakes, which we’d expect with their age and their experience level. The good thing about making those mistakes is we know we can fix them and the only way is up.”

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’s final swims coming in the 10-km marathon Wednesday. Katrina Bellio of Etobicoke Swimming will join Dunford in the women’s event, while Hau-Li Fan of Swimming Canada’s High Performance Centre – Vancouver and Eric Brown of Montreal’s Pointe-Claire Swim Club compete on the men’s side.

Full results: Competition Schedule | FINA Official