WRITTEN BY SHARON ROBB
August 10, 2012
Ous Mellouli of Tunisia, an open water swimming rookie, won the gold medal in the men’s 10K open water swim becoming the first athlete to claim medals in the pool and open water at the same Olympics.
It was Tunisia’s first and only medal of the London Olympics.
Mellouli broke away from a small pack of swimmers in the lead group in the sixth and final lap at Hyde Park’s Serpentine to win in 1 hour, 49 minutes and 55.1 seconds.
Last week Mellouli won a bronze medal in the 1500-meter freestyle and in 2008 the gold medal in the 1500. He overcame shoulder and elbow problems and a virus.
“I don’t think this has ever been done before,” Mellouli said. “It was possibly one of the toughest things to do. The 10K hurts, you’re in pain, once you hit a wall, you just keep pushing when you hit a wall again, you keep pushing.
“Nothing compares to this,” Mellouli said. “There’s no way I can top this achievement.
“The conditions were definitely to my advantage,” Mellouli said. “It wasn’t really rough and it wasn’t too cold. I come from the Mediterranean so that was a big worry for me. This was the easiest of the three open water races I’ve competed in.”
At times, Mellouli would flip over and swim backstroke to see what swimmers were gaining ground on him. At one point, he was ahead by 13 seconds.
“As a country, we’ve been through a lot in the last couple of years,” Mellouli said. “I hope that every Tunisian will turn on their TV, look at my success, be happy. I hope that this medal brings them some joy and some pride.”
Mellouli trains at Southern Cal with Dave Salo. He gave Salo, USC open water coach Catherine Vogt and former USC coach Mark Schubert for his success in training.
Germany’s Thomas Lurz, 33, who took bronze in Beijing, won the silver in 1:49.58.5.
Canadian and first-time Olympian Richard Weinbeger, 22, took the bronze. It was Canada’s 17th medal of the Games and Canada’s first open water medal. He just 5.2 seconds behind Mellouli.
“It was just brutal,” Weinberger said. “It’s easier to be up front and have no draft and be on my own. It’s better to put energy out pushing the pace rather than fighting. I’m still working and gaining speed and endurance.”
American Alex Meyer, 24, coming back from a broken collarbone and swimming in honor of his good friend, Fran Crippen, was tenth in 1:50.48.2, less than a minute out of the medals. Crippen’s parents called Meyer the night before his race to wish him good luck.
Meyer had a good start and was in fourth place after the first few laps but got caught up in a pack of swimmers, never regained his momentum and faded quickly.
“It’s definitely been an emotional time for me,” Meyer said.
Crowd favorite Benjamin Schulte, 16, of Guam, finished nearly 14 minutes after Mellouli in last place. Fans stayed to watch him and applauded loudly when he finished.
The U.S. swimming team, including Haley Anderson’s open water silver medal, finished with 16 gold, 9 silver and 6 bronze medals, its best medal performance since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.
China’s Qiu Bo and Lin Yue were the top two qualifiers followed by Germany’s Sascha Klein after the men’s platform preliminaries at the Aquatic Centre.
The top 18 advanced from a field of 32 divers after the six rounds of diving into the semifinals on Saturday.
Qiu Bo, 19, the reigning world champion, led with 563.70 points. Lin Yue, 21, was second with 532.15 points, putting China in a position to claim two more medals including a seventh gold in diving.
Klein finished with 525.05 points and his German teammate Martin Wolfram was fourth with 496.80 points.
After two rounds, the favorites were looking nervous. Nick McCrory was ninth, world silver medalist David Boudia, tenth, Tom Daley, 15th and defending Olympic gold medalist Matt Mitcham, 16th.
Daley, a former world champion, ended up finishing 15th. McCrory qualified eighth with 480.90. Mitcham finished ninth while Boudia just squeaked in at 18th. “It was a tough competition,” Daley said.
Lin Yue of China was the only diver to score over 100 points on one dive.
Italy will play Croatia, the only undefeated team remaining, for the gold medal on Sunday.
Italy, looking for its fourth Olympic title, upset World Cup champion Serbia, 9-7, in the semifinals at the Water Polo Arena. Italy’s Valentino Gallo and Amaurys Perez each had three goals.
Croatia, which has never won the gold medal, beat Montenegro, 7-5, in the other semifinal.
Three-goal hero Felipe Perrone led Spain into Sunday’s fifth place playoff game with an 8-7 victory over the U.S. men’s team. The U.S. will not play Australia for the seventh and eighth places.
In front of a crowd of 17,000, defending Olympic champion Russia performed a near-perfect four-minute routine to top a field of seven teams and clinch the gold medal with 197.030 (technical, 98.100 and freestyle, 98.930). It was the Russians’ fourth consecutive gold medal.
Track and field athlete Bryshon Nellum was selected as Closing Ceremony flag bearer for the U.S. Olympic team on Sunday. Nellum was voted by Team USA members. The 400-meter runner was told by doctors in 2008 that he would never run again at a world-class level. Through perseverance and dedication, Nellum proved them wrong. “I’m humbled by this incredible privilege,” Nellum said. “Four years ago I wasn’t sure I’d ever run again, and now I’m leading Team USA into the Closing Ceremony of the Olympic Games.”…Belgian swimmer Fanny Lecluyse, 20, was sent home before the end of the Games after returning to the Athletes’ Village drunk at 3:30 a.m.
“It’s nice if you make the Olympic Team. It’s better if you do well when you get there. You must have that goal to do that.”—U.S. Olympic men’s coach Gregg Troy
“Every time you go on deck, you change the life of someone, just for a moment, maybe.”—Frank Busch, USA Swimming National Team Director
“Going to repel down a mountain in the Alps tomorrow, the biggest threat to my life isn’t the mountain at this point, but dealing with mom afterward.”—Jimmy Feigen, U.S. Olympic swimmer
Sharon Robb can be reached at email@example.com