Thomas Lurz of German is without a doubt the century's best open water swimmer at the 5km distance, capturing his 10th FINA gold medal in a time of 56:16.6. Lurz won his first FINA World Championship in 2005 and he has won the 5km title each of the last seven years.
The German juggernaut defeated 10km champion Spyridon Gianniotis of Greece by 0.8 seconds. Evgeny Drattsev of Russia touched the pad 1.9 seconds behind the German champion.
Lurz placed bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Marathon. He now has 10 career world titles, the seven consecutive 5km titles, and three in the 10km. Lurz also has three silver medals in 10km competition and three bronze medals across 5km and 10K events for a total of 16 world championship medals. "It was my strategy to lead at the end because that is the way to arrive at the touch pad first" said Lurz. "My next goal is a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics in the Marathon 10km event."
Asked if there was any doubt who would win today's race the German world champion replied "there is always some doubt. Spyros is in good shape and he is always very good in the 5km races. I don't think about winning 5, or 6, or 7 races as this puts pressure on me that is unnecessary. I try to do my best and I don't think about the number of titles that I have won" said Lurz.
In Melbourne, at the 2007 FINA World Championships, the same three athletes sprinted towards the finish line. It was Drattsev who finished 1.1 seconds behind Lurz for the silver medal. The Russian was also the runner up to Lurz last summer in Roberval, 3.5 seconds behind the champion in the same distance.
Today's silver medallist from Greece, Gianniotis bested Lurz in the 10km by 2.5 seconds just two days ago. Gianniotis nearly defeated the perennial world champion in today's 5km event, but was out sprinted by the German at the finish and earned the silver in a time of 56:17.4. The Hellenic swimmer was also the silver medallist in the 2009 World Championships in Rome and the bronze medallist in 2007.
The Greek said: "I was in the lead at the 600m to go mark and I could see Thomas. For me, I knew it was good to be ahead of him. An athlete always wants to give his very best and I knew that Thomas would also be at his best. It was hell on my mind and I was tired and I was hot. I dropped back to second position but then I caught up again and I was ready for the sprint. He won and he was very, very clever to win but he is the best open water swimmer in history. I lost to the best open water swimmer and I am very happy to be second to Thomas Lurz."
Russia's Evgeny Drattsev snatched bronze with a 56:18.5 in the "sprint" open water distance. It was his sixth world medal in open water. Previously, he took silver behind Lurz in the 5km in 2007 and 2010, while taking silver in the 10km in 2010. He also took bronze in the 10km in 2006 and 2007. The Russian told reporters that "I remember the three of us in the race in Melbourne. We were in the same situation then as we were today, but I knew that I would have my speed. It was important to be in a good position with those two and I was happy to be in the sprint with them. Open Water Swimming is a really tough sport that requires a lot of tactics and experience. Our sport is a contact sport and at 500m to go I received a yellow card and I don't know why.”
Sean Ryan of the USA led most of the first half of the race posting a time of 28:20 at the midpoint of the race. Ryan would fall off the pace, finishing in 11th place and 13.5 seconds behind the German gold medallist.
Switzerland's Swann Oberson came from behind to win the women's open water 5km race on Friday, narrowly defeating France's Aurelie Muller by 0.4 seconds. Oberson captured the first ever gold medal in a FINA World Championships for Switzerland. Oberson swam the final 500m in the middle of a trio, each of whom would collect a medal today; she was able to pull away and to slap the touch pad at 1:00.39.7 seconds. Ashley Twichell, who won gold in the team event with American teammates on Thursday, settled for the bronze, medal finishing 0.1 seconds behind Muller.
Oberson is the first Swiss open water world champion and only the second medallist. Hanna Miluska snared a bronze medal for Switzerland in the 5km in 2002 at the FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. The Swiss athlete explained her intense training regimen: "I started swimming 20 years ago, now I swim 5 hours a day. Swimming pool is my second house." She is 25 years old and enjoys a height advantage over her competitors. She may have used her height and wing span to her benefit at the touch. The Swiss athlete placed 6th in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and was the winner of the 2010 FINA World Cup event in Dubai last fall.
"I was very happy with today's race. To win was never my expectation. I know that being in the first position is not always very good in open water, but I was prepared to be very good in the last thousand meters. I just tried to stay in the top 10 over the whole race," said the Swiss champion. "I was swimming and then when I picked up the pace I found that I was passing people. I found myself in the middle of the three who were all sprinting for the touch pad. I knew it would be a photo finish and I swam as hard as I could to reach the touch pad for the gold medal."
Twenty one year old Muller, represented France in pool swimming events at the FINA World Junior Swimming Championships. She also finished in second place to Oberson at the world cup event in Dubai last October. Muller earned her country's second open water world championship medal following Celia Barrot who collected a bronze medal for the French in the 25km even last summer in Roberval (CAN).
Muller said she "was in the same position as my competitors, all three of us sprinting for the finish line. For me this was not a big strategy as the final 300m was about whom would arrive first at the touch pad. My arms are a bit shorter than Swann's and I touched just behind her for the silver medal."
USA's Twichell, 22 years old, was competing in her first international competition. Also in the water was teammate Eva Fabian, the 2010 champion in the 5km who at one point led today's race. Fabian was affected by the warm water temperatures finishing in 12th, just a little more than 10 seconds behind the gold medallist.
Twichell announced that she "was happy to be a part of the USA team that won the gold medal in the 5km Team Event yesterday. I was really excited to have my first international event be the team relay with Sean (Ryan) and Andrew (Gemmell). It was a new event and it was a lot of for all three of us. Winning a gold medal at my first world championships was exciting and I think it gave me and also our team a boost of confidence."
The American bronze medallist said: “I’m more comfortable towards the front. It kind of stresses me out to be toward the back, so I just tried to stay up with the lead pack, which was actually pretty big. I’m new to the sport, so the turns are still a little rough for me, so I tried to get as good a positioning as I could in the turns. Those were still pretty congested and little rough. I got a little beat up on those, but I just tried to maintain a good tempo and a strong pace. After we made the last turn, I tried to pick it up with the lead pack.”
“I knew it was going to be a close race,” Twichell said. In the last 1000m I knew that others would pick it up and I was very prepared for that. I saw that there were four of us and suddenly only three of us were left in the sprint after an athlete was issued a red card. “I knew there was a really big pack behind me and there was no time to look back, so I just tried to maintain the speed I had and about the last 100 metres I gave it everything I had, put my kick in and just tried to touch the finish pad as quick as I could.”
The American women have now earned a total of 11 medals in FINA Open Water swimming competitions, three gold, four silver and now a total of four bronze medals across all open water distances.
Russian swimmer Ekaterina Seliverstova led the pack at the half way mark in a time of approximately 30:24. A total of 39 athletes finished the race. The top 10 swimmers were separated by less than eight seconds at Jinshan Beach in Shanghai today.
The 2008 Olympic Marathon bronze medallist Cassandra Patten of Great Britain withdrew early in the race. Nine yellow cards warning swimmers for rules infractions were issued and Yumi Kida (JPN) and Kalliopi Araouzou (GRE) were disqualified when they were issued red cards for serious rule infractions.