Belgrade 2024: David Betlehem out-touches Marc-Antoine Olivier for maiden European title

Credit to: European Aquatics

David Betlehem clinched his first European title with a perfectly-timed touch in the 5km to claim victory by 0.4sec over Marc-Antoine Olivier. The Frenchman had taken silver by just 0.2 in the 10km on Wednesday as the pair tussled behind Gregorio Paltrinieri but it was the Hungarian’s day in the shorter race.

Betlehem has been training with Olympic silver medallist and World 10km champion Kristof Rasovszky for many years but he has not been able to step out of the ‘big bro’s’ shadow at senior level.

Rasovszky had more composure and his physical presence and cool mindset usually prevailed in the biggest races.

Betlehem, five years younger, with a lighter physical build and a mindset of a hungry but very young hunting dog always fell short when big things were at stake.

He has been around in the individual events for quite a while but could never make the top three at major senior competition.

Now, in less than 24 hours, he claimed his first medal with bronze in the 10km before taking his first European title.

Credit to: European Aquatics

The ‘big bro’, Rasovszky didn’t hold back anything, storming to the front right after the start and set a fast pace which few could match.

Rasovszky, 5km World champion in 2019, led the pack for two laps, closely followed by Olivier, Sascha Velly and Betlehem.

Turning onto the last lap, Olivier switched gears and swam to the front, alongside Betlehem, while Rasovszky battled with Velly.

For a while, these two French-Hungarian duels were the highlights, though the three Italians were still within striking distance.

With the last two turns in sight, the battle between Olivier and Betlehem intensified.

The pair swam shoulder-to-shoulder, both looking to break but neither could leave the other behind.

Though Olivier took the better position at the buoys, remaining on the inside, the young Magyar never let go and got back on equal terms as they approached the final straight.

In the meantime, the Italians launched their attack with Marcelo Guidi moving through the field and he even seemed to have a chance to catch the two leaders.

However, Olivier and Betlehem really geared up for the last 200m to stage a two-horse race for the title.

It came down to the touch and Betlehem managed to shoot his arm up and in front and deliver a perfectly-timed and executed touch.

His body and head might have been a bit behind, but his fast move earned him the necessary edge to grab the gold in 53:28.3, 0.4 ahead of Olivier who finished in 53:28.7.

Guidi came third in 53:30.8, well clear of Velly, while Rasovszky had to settle for sixth as Greece’s Athanasios Kynigakis also passed him.

“It was a really long road and I had to learn a lot of lessons before I could achieve this, two medals in two days, with a European title, not that bad, is it?” Betlehem said with a huge smile on his face.

“Today it was a huge race, my big bro Raso (Kristof Rasovszky) set a great pace over the first two laps, not everyone was happy with that as he managed to tear the field apart and only the best ones could stay close.

“In the last, we got going with Marc (Marc-Antoine Olivier) and it came down between the two of us.

“I knew I could have a chance, I just had to find a clear path. Even if I was on the outside so needed to swim a bit more, I was confident that I had the speed to touch in first.

“I was close but I could make it finally and this is a fantastic feeling and a tremendous boost before the Olympics.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Olivier bagged his second silver here and fifth at the Europeans in total.

The 2017 world champion had never been so close to claiming a title as he was here but he is yet to earn gold at the continental meets.

Still, he was content with finishing runner-up again.

“Yesterday I had the edge over David (Betlehem), today he was a bit faster,” the Frenchman said.

“Even if it is silver again, I’m happy with this medal. Two events, two podiums, this is very good just weeks before the Olympics. And it also shows we can have a good chance to win the relay here.”

Italy’s Guidi was just as happy with the bronze as if he had won the race.

“Oh, I can’t tell you how happy I am with this medal. The first one for me at European Championships, this is really great. It was a very hard race, you had such great swimmers as Rasovszky, Olivier, Betlehem, they were swimming pretty fast.

“We Italians tried to swim together for most of the race, then went for a fast finish.

“I’m happy I could finish third but (Andrea) Filadelli’s seventh place is also a great result in this field.”

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