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Ilchenko wins second open water gold despite stings

3/20/2007

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Chloe Sutton emerged from the water
a trembling, teary mess, wondering what happened to her goggles.
Angela Maurer buried her head in a coach's chest, knowing what it
must have felt like to go 12 rounds with Mike Tyson in his prime.
And everyone was covered in ugly, red welts, the work of jellyfish
lurking off St. Kilda Beach.

Oh well, just another day of open water swimming.

Russia's Larisa Ilchenko claimed her second gold medal of the
world championships Tuesday, winning a sprint to the finish with
British up-and-comer Cassandra Patten in the 10-kilometer race.

Then again, no one really looked like a winner when it was over.
They staggered onto dry land, just glad to have survived 6.2 miles
of cool waters, rough tactics and all those nasty creatures lurking
beneath the surface of Port Phillip Bay.

"I could hear girls screaming on the first lap when they got
stung," said Ilchenko, who defended her 10k world championship
after winning a fourth consecutive 5k title Sunday.

The pain was worth it if a medal was waiting at the finish line.
But Maurer missed out on the bronze by just 1.2 seconds after a
race that covered 6.2 miles and lasted more than two hours.

"Where have I not been stung? My face. My arms. A few of them even got me through my suit. About the only place I wasn't stung was the bottom of my feet."
-- British swimmer Cassandra Patten

"My whole body is just burning," the German said after seeking
solace from her coach.

Sutton, a 15-year-old Californian, got a rough introduction to
her first world championships.

She had her goggles knocked off at the first feeding station,
forcing her to hang on to a buoy until a worker on a jet ski
brought out another pair. Sutton lost valuable time, spent most of
the race swimming by herself and finished in 28th place. She was
crying when she finally made it to the beach, covered in jellyfish
stings.

"I tried to catch back up, but I just couldn't do it," she
said.

Kalyn Keller was the top American, finishing ninth. She was 12.1
seconds behind the winner.

"I wouldn't call it an easy Tuesday morning swim," she said,
before adding, "We got a lot of good experience out of that. It
was my first time swimming with the Europeans. I'll know what to
expect next time."

Ilchenko and Patten were swimming stroke-for-stroke as they
rounded the last buoy, but the Russian nudged ahead in the final
100 meters. She finished with a time of 2 hours, 3 minutes, 57.9
seconds.

Patten was about a body length behind, crossing in 2:03:58.9.
Australia's Kate Brookes-Peterson took the bronze in 2:03:59.5.

"I didn't have any strategy," Ilchenko said through a
translator. "I was so tired. I was just thinking about finishing
the race."

Every swimmer felt the wrath of the jellyfish, which showed up
during training but were really out in force for the race.

"It sounds weird, but it actually broke up the swimming a
little bit," Patten said, managing a grin as she looked at the
marks all over her body. "You're going, 'Ohhh, I've been stung.
Ohhh, I've been stung again."'

When asked where she had been stung, Patten replied, "Where
have I not been stung? My face. My arms. A few of them even got me
through my suit. About the only place I wasn't stung was the bottom
of my feet."

No worries, as they say in these parts.

"At least there weren't any sharks," Patten said.

The 10k took on added significance because it will be part of
the swimming program in Beijing, where open water makes its Olympic
debut next year.

"It has become more important, especially in the coaches'
eyes," Patten said. "They see it's an Olympic event, so they're
pushing their swimmers into open water more than they did before."

Brookes-Peterson picked up her second bronze of the meet -- she
also finished third in the 5k -- despite being up most of the
previous night with food poisoning or some sort of stomach bug.

"I just put it all behind me," she said. "This sets me up
great for Beijing."

But Maurer was bitter about the aggressive tactics of some
swimmers. This sport can resemble a wet version of roller derby
when they're battling for position in the great, big ocean.

"Everyone was just beating each other up," Maurer said. "I
have never experienced such a race before. It was horrible."

Elsewhere Tuesday, China's divers put on another dominating
performance, leading the preliminaries of both men's 1-meter
springboard and women's 10-meter platform.

Luo Yutong upstaged his No. 1-ranked teammate He Chong by a big
margin -- 466.50 points to 423.30 -- on the board. American Chris
Colwill was fourth.

Chen Ruolin blew away the platform field, while defending world
champion Laura Wilkinson had a major scare. The 29-year-old
American botched three straight dives but pulled it out with her
final attempt, a back 2½ somersault with 1½ twists that earned scores between 8.0 and 9.0.

She scored high enough to leap from 22nd to 16th, good enough to
advance.

"Don't ever, ever give up until it's over," said Wilkinson,
who has a history of rallying on her final dive.

"She's one of those special athletes who has the uncanny
ability to say, 'Look, this is not life. This is diving. Let's just
go in and do as good as we can do,'" said Ken Armstrong, her
coach. "That quality is so hard to find in most people."

After a solid opening dive, Wilkinson totally botched her second
attempt, an inward 3½ somersault. Her takeoff was fine and the
spins were tight, but she misjudged the point where she needed to
come out of her tuck.

Wilkinson's legs flung out toward the water instead of going in
nice and straight, creating a huge splash that left the crowd
groaning. The judges certainly took note, awarding her ugly scores
that ranged from 1.0 to 2.5.

"Actually, I was really shocked," Wilkinson said. "I knew I
came out of it a little bit, but I didn't expect to do that. I
really didn't know how to react to it. Now I know. You can always
learn something new, even when you're old like me."

The semifinals and finals of both diving events will be held
Wednesday. The other American woman, 14-year-old Haley Ishimatsu,
failed to advance after finishing 29th out of 32 divers.

It was another good day for the Russians.

In addition to Ilchenko's second gold, the country remained
perfect in synchronized swimming with its third straight title. The
Anastasias -- Davydova and Ermakova -- won the technical duet with a
program of exceptional height, rapid leg movements and complex
turns.

The three-time world champs won with a score of 98.333. The
Spanish team of Gemma Mengual Civil and Paola Tirados Sanchez
claimed the silver (97.500) and Japan's Saho Harada and Emiko
Suzuki took the bronze (97.167).

The Americans, Christina Jones and Annabelle Orme, were fifth.

The U.S. men got off to a good start in water polo, routing host
Australia 9-3. But the Americans have only one medal, a bronze in
synchronized swimming, through the first four days of the meet.