Poland’s Piotr Wozniak won a thrilling 10km race on the second day of the European Junior Open Water Swimming Championships, with just 0.7 seconds separating the top three finishers, while pre-race favourite Bettina Fabian won the women’s event.
Poland are not traditionally considered among the open water swimming ‘superpowers’ but at this year’s edition in Greece two of their male talents have secured stunning victories on successive days.
Wozniak follows team-mate Bartosz Kapala, who claimed the 7.5km title on the opening day.
Though Wozniak led early on, Spaniard Carlos Garach then surged ahead and built a five second lead which he managed to maintain for two and a half laps.
Entering the final stages, however, the Italians launched a fierce attack, with Vincenzo Caso and Pasquale Giordano both both chasing down the Spanish swimmer.
While many expected Giordano to take charge – given he was the runner up at the 2022 European and World Junior Championships, it was Caso and Germany’s Linus Schwedler who rushed ahead, with only Wozniak able keep pace with them.
The final sprint became a real open water thriller, of neck-to-neck, shoulder-by-shoulder action.
Wozniak hit the panel first, just 0.3 secs ahead of Caso, while Schwedler powered home a further 0.4 secs adrift. Giordano had to settle for the fourth place place.
The women’s event was also full of drama, at least in the battle for the minor medals, with 2023 LEN European Open Water Cup overall champion Bettina Fabian controlling this encounter.
The 2022 Junior World champion swam an intelligent race strategy, leading for the majority of the race, before settling in behind the leader.
The Hungarian, who was ninth at the senior World Championships this summer – and claimed relay silver in Japan – turned onto the last lap eight seconds behind the leader, but then executed her plan to perfection by surging clear and claiming gold by 15 seconds.
Behind her a huge battle ensued among six swimmers and it was Spain’s Angela Martinez who just out-touched the other Hungarian, Mira Szimcsak, for the silver medal, by 0.1 secs.
With two more podium finishes, Hungary now top the medal standings with three golds and three silvers, while Poland has two golds and Great Britain one.
Spain stands with two silvers and a bronze, Italy have claimed two second-place finishes, while the German swimmers bagged four bronze medals in the individual races.
On the last day two relays (one for the 14-16 years old, and one open category) shall conclude the meet in Corfu – follow both races live on the LEN YouTube Channel.
Quotes from the champions
Piotr Wozniak, POL, Men’s 10km
“This gold medal means a lot to me. If I look at it, I know that all the hard work was worth it. It was a very tough race, very tough. I led in the first lap, but my plan was to stay a bit behind, go with the others and gave all in the final sprint. I managed to do that, but it wasn’t that easy, I got all the hits in the world at some turns, still, I held on and try to focus on my swim. I saw that one of the Italians goes ahead, also the German, so I tried to go with them and then I really put everything in for the last metres and I’m so happy that my touch was the fastest.”
Bettina Fabian, HUN, Women’s 10km
“This is not only the coronation of this wonderful season but also a worthy ending to my age-group career and I’m overjoyed that I could get this gold medal in my final junior individual race. That was the target, to finish first, and it’s great to achieve it. I led from time to time, but I didn’t want to swim in front all the time as the waves were very rough as we swam out from the bay, I was struggling a bit there, and it burnt a lot of energy. So I was like, if I couldn’t tear the field apart, then I’d sit back and go for the final sprint where I would be the fastest, I was confident about that. It worked, so it’s a great feeling that I could add this European title to the world title from last year.”