Doha 2024: Open water champion Leonie Beck steps up Paris preparations

Credit to: World Aquatics

By Nick Hope

Aquatics correspondent in Doha

In early 2022 Leonie Beck would have featured among an ‘elite’ group of open water swimmers considered among the strongest in the sport, but few would have predicted then that the German had to potential to sustain major marathon swimming success.

Heading into the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, where she finished fifth, Beck had won European and World bronze medals in the non-Olympic 5km events.

They were highly-respectable results and marked significant improvements on her performances in the pool, with the German having placed 25th in the 800m freestyle on her Games debut at Rio 2016.

However, a move to Piombino in Italy after the Tokyo Games in 2021 saw her join a group which included Gregorio Paltrinieri – Olympic medallist in the pool and open water – as well as Domenico Acerenza, and her prospects were transformed.

Since then, Beck has claimed individual 10km European and World titles, the latter securing her a named place in the German team for the Paris 2024 Olympics.

She has also won the 5km global gold and secured mixed relay medals with her national team at continental and World Championship level.

“I was lucky that I was already successful when I was a teenager at European Youth Championships and I already qualified for the (senior) World Championships when I was 17,” she recalls.

“In the pool at one point I couldn’t reach my personal best in the biggest competitions so that’s why I changed to open water and of course at the beginning it was step by step, but now I’m more experienced and last year I reached a really, really good level.

“At home (in Germany), in the base I had in Augsburg I learned to stay calm and be grounded which was important, but in Italy I’ve now learned the importance of self-confidence and I think having this mix is really useful.”

NEW SEASON, SAME MISSION

Credit to: World Aquatics

Beck insists she did take ‘some time’ to celebrate her double World title successes at Fukuoka 2023, but now starts a fresh, Olympic season, “from zero.”

“Last year meant a lot to me and it was really incredible, but I’m not the type of person who thinks of myself as better than others,” she tells European Aquatics.

“I think everyone has the same chances to win a gold medal and at these World Championships it doesn’t matter who won last year, because it’s a new competition.

“I also think it will be the same for the Olympics, because everyone has the same chances and the same goals, which is why I already have the same heart (passion).”

PREPARATIONS FOR PARIS PROGRESS IN DOHA

Credit to: World Aquatics

Beck will contest both the 5km and 10km events at the Doha World Championships and shall be joined by fellow Olympic qualifiers Chelsea Gubecka of Australia (5km) and USA’s Katie Grimes (5km and 10km) who were second and third respectively at Fukuoka 2023.

The rest of the field will be looking to battle it out for the 13 remaining places available for Paris 2024 via this year’s Worlds.

As such, Beck is anticipating a highly competitive 10km race in the “cool” middle eastern waters along the Old Doha Port.

“I think it will be a fast race as there are a lot of people who have to qualify and want to qualify, so it will be a special race too,” Beck tells European Aquatics.

“I can go maybe a little bit more relaxed into the World Championships because the Olympics is the most important thing for me this season and I’m already qualified.

“I think the water temperature will be really cold, maybe 19 degrees (in Doha) which is not my favourite so I cannot try something crazy incredible, but I will try my best and hope I can reach somewhere in front.”

THIRD-TIME LUCKY OLYMPICS?

Credit to: World Aquatics

Paris 2024 will be Beck’s third Olympics and given her successes during the last ‘cycle’ it will certainly represent her best chance of podium honours to date.

However, the swimmer herself is focusing on the potential wider impact of the Games.

She hopes that people in her homeland will not only be inspired by her own performances – as well as the likes of countryman and defending Olympic champion Florian Wellbrock – but also other athletes.

“I think the Games will be very different to Rio and Tokyo, but for me Paris will be really special because as a European it’s fantastic to have an Olympic Games here, just an hour flight away from Germany,” she says with a smile.

“I also think it will be good for the countries like Germany, to get more people interested in different sports.

“We all know that football is ‘number one’ in most countries but this will be an opportunity for swimming, athletics, fencing and many others.

“I hope in particular that those in Germany see what is happening and want to get involved themselves.”