London Olympics 2012, Women's Open Water Race, 10k/ 6 laps of Hyde Park's Serpentine
The Serpentine: a dauntingly named lake that conjures images of mythical snake beasts. Indeed, its name is derived from its snaking, curving shape. Yet as open water courses go, such thoughts are misleading. The flat tide made for a very fast race in the women’s swimming marathon.
Great Britain’s Keri-Anne Payne was a strong favourite but could only manage fourth place. Perhaps that the winner, Eva Risztov of Hungary, has a rich background in middle-distance pool races suggests the conditions were unfavourable to Payne.
Open water racing is as it sounds: an individualised discipline where swimmers have great freedom to decide how they compete. They can lurk in a chasing pack or lead, drift sideways and take fuel breaks as and when pleased.
Payne appeared to have missed her final drop from her feeding station, which could account for her being off the leaders’ pace. It may be more appropriate, however, to make the point that the waters were too tame to draw the best out of her.
For a swimmer who has encountered jellyfish the size of dinner plates, swam in a river where dead dogs and horses had been dumped and in ice-cold waters without shark nets, the recreational lake would have been like a stroll in the surrounding Hyde Park – a comfort to some but which played competitively to Payne’s disadvantage.
Characteristically Payne, who likes to lead from start to finish, took immediately to the front, only to be hauled back by Hayley Anderson of USA and Risztok, who stretched the field at a ferocious pace.
With one lap of six remaining, the race was already elitist as a ten metre gap separated the first five swimmers. Mercifully, Risztok cranked the intensity to make the gap 20 then 30 metres, putting a clear separation between the rest of the field.
The early race leader, Anderson, was left adrift battling with Payne to catch Germany’s Angela Moura, Italy’s Martina Grimaldi and Risztok who occupied the medal positions.
What happened next was extraordinary, however, as she summoned staggering reserve to surge up to second place, and came close to snatching victory. Payne, too, was swept forward as the end approached, and finished just 0.4 seconds off a podium finish.