Grant Hackett's Olympic preparations were thrown into turmoil today when the Australian was disqualified for two infringements in the Olympic qualifier 10km marathon race at the 5th FINA World Open Water Championships in Seville. I earlier suggested that he may return to the fray in the second round of qualification at the test event but not so, apparently, even if he wanted to: if only one per country makes it in Seville, that's the only one who goes. His dream apparently over, Hackett said he will now concentrate on the pool in Beijing and becoming the first man to win an Olympic pool crown - in the 1,500m freestyle. Thank you to all those who sent clarifications, which did not all agree with each other, so apologies if the nuance of the rules is not fully interpreted here: I have no intention of reading through the stodge of qualification that ought to be more simple given that so many in the sport appear to be confused. The top 10 home are through is about all we need to know.
Having stayed up with the pack for a little over 8km, Hackett had already dropped out of contention by the time the judging decision was made, according to reports from Seville. "Early on I was comfortable and was sitting third most of the way and as I expected there were a few on me when the pace heated," Hackett told Swimming Australia. "I felt good for the first eight or nine kilometres but didn't have the energy to go when I needed and then when you get swallowed up it takes even more energy out of you and it's that much harder when you use every once of energy to get back on the pace. I just didn't have it in the legs in the end and the decision not to compromise my pool program was a risk you take and in the end I was two body lengths offs 10th place - that's how close it was. But I'm going to hold my head up and move on and get back and prepare for the pool."
The tussle for the medals went to Vladimir Dyatchin (RUS) by just 0.3sec ahead of the other pool 1,500m Olympic medallist in the battle, Britain's David Davies, who much now be considered a serious threat among the handful of gold-medal hopes in the inaugural event in Beijing in August. Just six second behind the leaders was Thomas Lurz (GER), who had already made the decision to focus on the marathon and not the pool. Davies and Hackett will attempt to do both.
The medallists, top 10 finishers and Beijing qualifiers from Seville:
Dyatchin heads to Beijing as favourite for the crown, while Davies's prospects are also bright, his tactics, planned with head open water coach Sean Kelly, to keep out of trouble proving a great asset. The Brit said: "That race took a lot out of me, I feel like I have done twelve rounds with Mike Tyson. That was my first competitive 10km swim. In South Africa there were only six athletes competing, so the conditions here were perfect for me to gain experience. I am a rhythmic swimmer and so we planned for me to get out into the lead early on and get myself some clear space so I was well out of the pack. When I got into the lead I had no idea what was going on behind me, I just kept my pace and didn't stop to feed throughout the race. I did make some mistakes with my lines and my tactics, but these are things that will come with more experience of open water swimming. Dyatchin got me at the last turn and he used his experience to make me swerve towards the turning buoy. But I am pleased to be able to get that result while I am in the middle of heavy training. I was not rested going into that race and I used it as part of my training programme so for me this is an encouraging position to be. I have had a busy start to 2008 and I am looking forward to getting back to Loughborough and getting some solid training under my belt. It is great to know I now have options for Beijing and I am now going to have discussions with my coach before we decide my next step."
Hackett was said to have fallen foul of Rule 6.3.1, which prohibits any one swimmer from interfering with another swimmer by making intentional contact. Hackett's first infringement (yellow flag) came at 1hr24mins into the race, while the second was within the last 300m. The Australian team subsequently filed a protest, which was followed by meetings with the head referee Ronnie Wong, but the protest was not accepted, as both the infringements were confirmed by two other referees. "It's unfortunate that any swimmer should be disqualified," Mr. Stephen Cassidy, President of the Technical OWS Committee said through FINA, "but I have no doubt it was warranted and that the referees made the correct decision."
Hurst said that Hackett had been singled out for bully tactics: "Two things came into play with Grant's swim, one he did not have the experience and two he is Grant Hackett and he was targeted big time ... I got pretty hammered, I got pretty punched up, it was pretty vicious." And this an Olympic non-contact sport. Unedifying to say the least.
For the full details of how the race unfolded, the FINA official report written by Meghan Lynn has all the details.
Ninth place in Seville might be worth a flutter: Spiridon Louis (no y, and a first not last name - but close enough for the purposes of chance!) won the inaugural running marathon at the 1896 Olympic Games in Athens.