British down to last chance for swimming gold
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By PAUL NEWBERRY,
Updated August 10, 2012
LONDON (AP) The British know how to throw a party at Hyde Park.
Imagine the celebration if they pull out a gold Friday in the final swimming race of the London Games.
Britain's last hope for swimming gold in London is Daniel Fogg, who competed in the pool then moved to the open water competition. He finished eighth in the 1,500 meters, then moved from the Olympic village to a hotel near Hyde Park to make it easier to train for open water.
In the men's open water competition, he'll face Tunisia's Ous Mellouli, who trains in Southern California, who will try to become the first swimmer to capture medals at both the pool and open water in the same Olympics. He took bronze in the 1,500. Spyridon Gianniotis of Greece and Thomas Lurz of Germany are also favorites.
The home team has yet to win an aquatics event, a bitter disappointment amid plenty of triumphs. Another chance passed Thursday when world champion Keri-anne Payne of Britain made some tactical mistakes and wound up fourth in the women's open water marathon, which was won by Hungary's Eva Risztov.
"I tried absolutely everything I could," said Payne, wiping away tears. "It didn't quite go as I was hoping it would."
Risztov led most of the way in the grueling 10-kilomter race at Hyde Park, holding off a desperate bid to chase her down by American Haley Anderson. The winner reached up with her right hand to touch the timing pad, beating Anderson by four-tenths of a second after nearly two hours of racing around The Serpentine.
Risztov climbed out of the water, smiling and looking fresh as can be. She even flexed for the big, boisterous crowd.
Risztov retired from swimming after the 2004 Athens Games, where she failed to win a medal in any of her three events. Most galling was a fourth-place showing in the 400 individual medley, prompting her to retire for three years.
"I lived an ordinary life," she said.
Then Risztov decided to give open water a try.
"I thought I was capable of winning a medal," she said through an interpreter.
A gold, at that. The winning time was 1 hour, 57 minutes, 38.2 seconds.
Anderson was right on Risztov's left shoulder coming to the line but couldn't overtake her.
"Of course, I'm disappointed that I missed out on gold," said Anderson, whose sister, Alyssa, won a relay gold in the London pool. "But I gave it everything I had. I'm happy with the result."
Martina Grimaldi of Italy claimed the bronze ahead of Payne, who was cheered on by tens of thousands lining the lake in one of London's iconic royal parks.
Grimaldi finished in 1:57:41.8, while Payne's lunge for the pad wasn't quite fast enough. She missed the podium by four-tenths of a second, failing to give Britain not only its first swimming gold of the London Games but any medal at all. She was the silver medalist in Beijing.
Payne said she was caught off guard by the fast pace and made a mistake when she stopped at the feeding station on the third lap. In open water, swimmers tuck gel packs into their suits and are handed drinks on long sticks as they go by the feeding areas, usually flipping over on their backs like otters to take a few sips before tossing the bottles away.
"I wasn't expecting quite so many people to go quite so early," Payne said. "Open water swimming is all about who makes the right decision at the right time. Unfortunately, I made a couple of wrong decisions."
She also was caught up in rough swimming, which threw off her rhythm. Five swimmers, including Anderson, received warnings for their aggressive tactics.
"I'm not really a fighter. I'm more of a lover," Payne said. "I got hit quite a few times in the face. We were all swimming in such close proximity. It seemed like a pretty violent race from the start."
Risztov was out front after the first of six laps around the narrow, 28-acre lake, which curls through Hyde Park. She dropped back to third on the second lap, then took the lead for good on the third.
She and four other swimmers eventually broke away, setting a pace that forced rescuers to yank South Africa's Jessica Roux onto a boat on the fourth lap when it became apparent she couldn't go on.
Roux was covered in a blanket and taken away in a wheelchair when she got to the shore. Brazil's Poliana Okimoto also dropped out, leaving 22 swimmers to complete the race.
The 20-year-old Anderson has only been swimming open water for about two years, and this was her first major 10K event.
Not a bad debut.
"Open water is growing and gaining more attention," Anderson said. "You kind of have to be crazy to do it, but it's rewarding."
There were extensive safety measures, with several boats tagging along beside the swimmers and plenty of lifeguards in kayaks - a reminder of the tragedy that struck the new Olympic sport less than two years ago.
American Fran Crippen suffered a seizure and drowned during a race on a sweltering day in the Middle East. Officials didn't even know he was missing until a teammate, Alex Meyer, noticed he never got to shore. Crippen's body was found about two hours later, and Meyer hopes to carry on his legacy in the men's Olympic race.
This was the second Olympics for open water, which made its debut at the 2008 Beijing Games. While the sport is often contested in rough seas, London organizers chose a picture-perfect setting in a park known for concerts and big-scale events right in the middle of the bustling city.
The conditions couldn't have been better - a sunny day with temperatures in the 70s and no waves to contend with. Three families of royal swans were temporarily removed from the lake, but plenty of ducks were still around. As Risztov headed for the final turn, one of them fluttered out of her way.
The fans turned it into a party, accompanied by thumping music and increasingly desperate chants of "Go Keri-anne!" The crowd drifted away quietly when it was over, Payne having missed out on the podium.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963.