BUDAPEST, Hungary – Canada’s 10-km open water marathon swimmers were the country’s final competitors on Wednesday at the FINA World Championships in Budapest which go down as the best in the country’s history.
Tokyo 2020 Olympian Hau-Li Fan of Swimming Canada’s High Performance Centre – Vancouver was the top Canadian placing 17th out of 58 finishers in the men’s race.
Gregorio Paltrinieri of Italy, the 1,500-m freestyle winner in the pool on Saturday, took the gold in 1:50:56.80 seconds. His compatriot Domenico Acerenza was 1.4 seconds behind in second, and Florian Wellbrock of Germany was third another 13 seconds later.
Fan, 24, equalled his result form the 2019 worlds but fell short of his ninth place at the Tokyo Olympics last summer.
‘’I didn’t start the race like I planned on,’’ said Fan, who finished 3:32.8 behind Paltrinieri. ‘’I tried to make up during the race and there was never a point I kind of gave up. At the end the result is the result and I’m going to take away many lessons for the rest of the season.’’
Eric Brown of Montreal’s Pointe-Claire Swim Club was 26th in his worlds debut, 5:18.2 off the pace.
‘’I’m pretty inexperienced with this,’’ said the 19-year-old. ‘’I didn’t have a spot where I wanted to finish. I stayed with the top guys for a really long time. It’s a good stepping stone and lets me know what I need to work on.’’
Swimming Canada Distance/Open Water Coach Mark Perry says he’s pleased with the performances in the development of his young squad.
‘’Hau-Li took a bit of time off after the Olympics so he wasn’t where he was in Tokyo,’’ Perry said. ‘’He’s getting back slowly and he has a few races over the summer to get back into that top-10.
‘’For Eric I was delighted. He was in the top-20 for most of the race. It was just that last lap the wheels came off and he suffered a bit. But a top-26 considering his age and experience is a really good result.’’
Katrina Bellio of Etobicoke Swimming was Canada’s top finisher on the women’s side.
She finished 34th, 6:44 behind winner Sharon van Rouwendaal of Netherlands. Germany’s Leonie Beck took the silver just 0.5 seconds behind, with Brazilian Ana Marcela Cunha following a second later for bronze. Regina native Abby Dunford was 38th, 1:08 behind Bellio.
Bellio, 17, made a push as high as 10th place near the midway mark of the six-lap race.
“I did fall back in the end but I think that’s a good way to know where I am in this type of race and hopefully use that experience to move me forward in my training,” Bellio said.
“I was pretty nervous at the start but once I was in my element just racing other girls I got pretty good and definitely the nerves calmed down a bit,” said Bellio, who was racing her first ever 10-km.
“It was a really intense race. I think I learned a lot in terms of strategy and feeding. It was a new experience. I have a lot I can take away from it. I’m really happy with where I placed and being competitive with the rest of the competitors.”
Dunford was the fourth-youngest woman in the 61-swimmer field, while only nine swimmers were younger than Bellio. Only two younger swimmers finished faster than Canada’s youthful pair. American Katie Grimes, 16, grabbed an impressive fifth place by slapping the finish gate eight seconds off the pace, and only 1.1 behind two-time world champion Aurelie Muller of France. Narin Burcunaz of Turkey, 15, beat Bellio by just two seconds for 33rd.
“We know they’re young, we know they’re very inexperienced and going into it we had a couple of key points that they needed to focus on and they both tried to focus on that. At one point Katrina moved herself into the top group, she was intent and she was doing a good job. She’s going to learn from swimming with those best girls,” said Perry. “There’s plenty to go but the important part for me is that they’ve both come out kind of buzzing and talking about how they can be better. For me, that’s what we’re looking for from this young team.”
Dunford, 16, said she learned from her experience in Monday’s 5-km event, which saw her finish 31st.
“I for sure conserved my energy for the first four laps, and then for the last two I picked it up and I sprinted home. I made sure I kept with a pack and I was practising drafting. I feel like my effort was great and I swam it much smarter,” said Dunford, who like Bellio also competed for Canada in the pool.
“It’s been amazing. The support staff here is incredible, and all my teammates are so great and so supportive. I’ve had an amazing time and I’ve learned a lot about myself and about my swimming.”
Dunford will represent Canada at the FINA World Junior Open Water Championships from Sept. 1-4 in Beau Vallon, Seychelles.
“I’m just excited to get back to training and seeing what I can put up in the pool and open water next,” she said.
Canada won a best-ever 11 medals at this edition of the worlds, all in the pool. Most of the team members, including Brown and Bellio, now turn their focus to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England, with the swimming competition set for July 29-Aug. 3.
Full results: Competition Schedule | FINA Official