Belgrade 2024: ‘King Greg’ back on the throne after 10km masterclass

Credit to: European Aquatics

Gregorio Paltrinieri won a fantastic race to regain his throne in the 10km event at the European Aquatics Championships Belgrade 2024. A mighty final sprint secured him an unusually big win with a margin of 21 seconds ahead of France’s Marc-Antoine Olivier and Hungary’s David Betlehem.

After dominating the 1500m free event for five years and going undefeated at major competition between 2013 and 2017, Paltrinieri looked for something different and tried his luck in open water from 2019.

After some initial struggles, he settled by 2021, swept three gold medals at the European Championships in Budapest (5km, 10km and team) and claimed bronze at the Olympics in Tokyo.

He added the world crown in Budapest the following year and he also excelled in the 5k in home waters at Roma 2022 while finishing seventh in the 10k.

The Italian was among the medals in the 5km and team relays at the following two editions of the World Championships in Fukuoka and Doha but he either didn’t make the podium or didn’t enter the longer race.

However, ‘King Greg’ delivered a pure masterclass on Wednesday at Ada Ciganlija.

Credit to: European Aquatics

He swam to the front early in the third lap and never allowed more than one rival to go ahead of him – if anyone.

The Italian managed to keep up the high pace and looked extremely strong and composed in the water while members of the chasing pack were changing constantly.

Mostly, it was an Italian-French-Hungarian mix, many of them world-class competitors, but none of them was able to catch up with Paltrinieri when he launched the decisive assault.

After turning onto the last lap and passing the buoys, he cut to the inside, chose a seemingly longer path but it was all part of the plan.

“It was hard when we turned onto the last lap, at the buoys I was between Domenico (Acerenza) and Marc (Olivier) and I didn’t feel comfortable at all,” he recalled.

“I just wanted to swim alone, so as soon as we took the turn, I immediately cut inside as I knew I was able to do a very fast sprint.

“I mean, for 800m, but a fast one where I could leave the others behind. It worked, so everything turned out really well here.”

He built such a huge gap that by the next turn there was no way for the others to catch him up again as he enjoyed a winning margin of 21.4secs in 1:49:19.6.

Credit to: European Aquatics

The finish still offered tremendous excitement, as the hunt for the minor spoils was wilder than ever.

At the end, four were rushing for the two remaining spots on the podium and they stormed through the finish line in a span of 0.5 seconds.

Rio 2016 bronze medallist Olivier was second in 1:49:41.0 to claim his third straight European silver.

“The race was great, the course was great and I’m happy with this medal,” said the Frenchman who will compete at a home Games in the River Seine next month.

“There are still five weeks until the Olympics, so this was a very good test. The lead was changing constantly and we had a good fight for the medals and I’m glad that I could clinch the silver.”

Next home was Betlehem who shared the same finishing time of 1:49:41.2 with defending champion Domenico Acerenza with the Hungarian declared the bronze medallist.

Dario Verani was fifth in 1:49:41.5 ahead of 2024 World bronze medallist Hector Pardoe with World champion Kristof Rasovszky in ninth.

Credit to: European Aquatics

Over the last three years, Betlehem always had bad luck with finishes.

The junior World champion was usually downed over the last metres by his stronger rivals but now he could find the right lane where his speed prevailed and earned him a long-awaited individual medal at a major championship.

“Finally, I got this medal, it’s a really great feeling” the young Hungarian said.

 “After so many fourth, fifth, sixth-place finishes at the major events, it’s awesome to stand on the podium at the European Championships after a 10km race.

“I wanted to go in front at the beginning, then let the others take the lead and work hard to stay close and get ready for the last sprint.

“It was a bit surprising that Greg managed to build such a lead, we didn’t see him because of a boat, but nevertheless, finally the touch favoured me, which is a big boost for me before the Olympics.”

The men’s and women’s 5km races will take place on Thursday 13 June.

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