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Swimmers from same club win first golds of worlds

July 20, 2013

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — The opening day of the swimming world championships could have doubled for a Trojan Swim Club meet.

American swimmer Haley Anderson, a recent graduate of the University of Southern California, the club’s home, won the first gold medal of the championships in the 5-kilometer open water and USC-based Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia quickly followed by taking the men’s event.

“It’s a great job for the Trojans today,” Mellouli said, thanking his American coaches Catherine Vogt, Jon Urbanchek and Dave Salo. “It’s an awesome group.”

Meanwhile, China’s Wu Minxia and Shi Tingmao won the first diving gold medal, earning Wu a record sixth world title in the women’s 3-meter synchronized springboard.

The pair’s almost flawless execution of all five dives framed by the dramatic backdrop of Barcelona’s skyline gave them a comfortable win by almost 31 points.

Italy’s Tania Cagnotto and Francesca Dallape claimed silver, while Canada’s Jennifer Abel and Pamela Ware were well back in third.

Wu has won nine world or Olympic gold medals in the 3-meter synchronized springboard, failing in the last decade to capture only the 2005 worlds, which she missed.

Medals were also handed out in synchronized swimming for the solo technical event, with Svetlana Romashina taking gold while her standout Russian teammate Natalia Ischenko is taking the year off because she’s pregnant.

Swimming to the tune of “Everlasting Love,” Romashina earned the 11th world title of her career, to go with her three Olympic golds.

Huang Zuechen of China took silver, and Ona Carbonell took bronze to give host Spain its first medal of the championships.

Down at Barcelona’s harbor, Anderson’s victory erased the bitter disappointment of missing selection for her favored event.

A silver medalist in last year’s 10K Olympic race, Anderson finished only eighth in that event at the U.S. trials in May on the same day of her graduation from USC. Her only chance to qualify came down to winning the 5K days later, which she did.

Now she has an even bigger title.

“I didn’t walk at graduation and I didn’t do well in the 10K so it was a pretty tough day,” Anderson said. “But I knew if I wanted to make the worlds team I had to win the 5K. There really was no other option. I’ve been focused on this 5K ever since then.”

Anderson edged Poliana Okimoto of Brazil in a sprint finish by 0.02 seconds. Another Brazilian, Ana Marcela Cunha, won a group sprint for third and finished 10.5 seconds behind.

Anderson trains under Catherine Vogt at USC, and Vogt is the U.S. open water head coach for these championships.

“She wanted to be out front and be smooth and strong and have some good closing speed and she did exactly what we talked about,” Vogt said. “She felt like she wanted to take advantage of her event here.”

At last year’s London Games, Vogt was on Tunisia’s staff and coached Mellouli to gold in the 10K.

Having started purely as a pool swimmer, Mellouli’s sprinting ability is what sets him apart in the open water. That was clearly evident in this race as he surged ahead of an elite group of rivals as soon as he got within the ropes outlining the finish area.

“I was hoping they wouldn’t stay with me,” Mellouli said. “Once I put the jets on I was able to take off, finish the race and take the win.”

As easy as that.

Mellouli beat silver medallist Eric Hedlin of Canada by 1.2 seconds, and five-time world champion Thomas Lurz of Germany finished third, 1.8 back.

Including the open water worlds, Lurz had won the 5K title seven consecutive times.

“I knew in the last 50 meters I would not win,” Lurz said. ”(Mellouli) swims the 100 free five seconds faster than me or more. This is the problem.”

Besides the 10K, Mellouli also took bronze in the 1,500-meter freestyle in London to become the first swimmer to win medals in both the pool and open water at the same Olympics. And he won the 1,500 at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Mellouli had planned to retire after the London Games but he changed his mind a couple of months later, and began training again only six months ago.

“This year was supposed to be a year off for me,” he said. “So to come back here after a solid two months of training and to be on top of the world is quite exciting for me.”