Doha 2024: Sharon van Rouwendaal and Kristof Rasovszky lead European domination in open water

Credit to: Istvan Derencsenyi/World Aquatics

European open water swimmers swept all the medals in the 10km races at the World Aquatics Championships in Doha. And there was more to highlight the Old Continent’s dominance as the men claimed eight and the women seven of the top-10 spots respectively, booking two-thirds of the Olympic berths for Paris 2024.

The women took to the water first at old Doha Port and staged a tremendous race where the last Olympic sports were up for grabs.

It was Sharon van Rouwendaal’s ‘turn’ to shine once more.

The Netherlands swimmer was Olympic champion at Rio 2016 and silver medallist in Tokyo in 2021.

She won this event in 2022 but missed the podium by 0.1sec last summer in Fukuoka with Olympic qualification hinging on the Doha worlds.

After 2km, Van Rouwendaal swam in the leading pack and launched her attack over the last 6-700m.

She faced some fierce – and perhaps unexpected – opposition from Spain’s Maria de Valdes who had barely made the big stage before.

Title-holder Leonie Beck from Germany and reigning Olympic champion Ana Marcela Cunha did not present a medal challenge with De Valdes pushing Van Rouwendaal to her limits.

Experience helped the Dutchwoman to touch in first, just 0.1 sec ahead of the Spaniard with Angelica Andre clinching Portugal’s first-ever medal in third.

“The feeling of winning is very special,” Van Rouwendaal said. “I had told myself that I was going to be the World Champion. I never say it out loud, but I kept my confidence.

“The greatest challenge is the conditions in water as it is open water and you never know what can happen. I had every scenario in my head and was confident that I was going to win this.

“Everyone kept asking me to keep my eyes on Paris but for me, I had to grab this win to level.”

“This is a dream come true for me,” Valdes said. “I was working for this all those years. I was out of Tokyo, so I am very grateful for this result.

“It was a very special day for me and I dedicate this medal to my father who passed away three months ago. It is very painful and it was very hard months for me before this championship. So, this result and this medal is very important to me.”

“I never told anyone that I will try to win in Doha before the competition,” Andre continued.

“It is maybe better when you do not say it before the start, but it ended up with a medal. The finish was not too hard as I felt strong.”

Seven of the top-10 spots in the women’s race went to European swimmers – but the men eclipsed that the following day and also enjoyed a clean sweep of the podium.

Credit to: Istvan Derencsenyi/World Aquatics

Hungary’s Kristof Rasovszky has spent eight years among the elite and claimed numerous medals including golds from Europeans (5km, 25km) and a world title in 2019 (5km).

He has also been the overall winner at the last four editions of the Marathon World Cup but he had never captured a 10km title at the Olympics, Worlds or Europeans.

Rasovszky was runner-up at Tokyo 2021, Fukuoka 2023 and at Glasgow 2018 but on Sunday produced an overwhelming performance, setting the pace early on and even when he dropped back a bit he remained very much in control.

His rivals couldn’t match his devastating speed over the last 800m as he switched gears and left the pack behind to win by 2.4sec.

“Last summer, in Fukuoka, after the race I said that was the swim of my life” Rasovszky recalled.

“However, the conditions there were non-comparable to those we had in Doha.

“Back in Tokyo, then in Fukuoka we swam in mild and flat water.

“Now we had waves, winds, the water temperature was 20C, everything I love about this sport. This was real open water swimming where all skills are tested including pacing, positioning and your resistance among the tough conditions.

“And I knew that here nothing and no-one could bother me, all I needed was charging ahead and do my job. And I just did.”

Frenchman Marc-Antoine Olivier also pulled away towards the end to secure the silver and return to the global 10km podium for the first time since winning silver at Gwangju 2019.

Britain’s Hector Pardoe out-touched three rivals for the bronze, as only 0.7sec separated him from the sixth-placed finisher.

It was a maiden world medal for Pardoe and the first by a British man in this event.

“There was a lot of pressure because the Olympic Games are happening in my country, so before the race I wanted to be sure that I would qualify,” Olivier said.

“Today I realised that I could win a medal, too, so I’m doubly happy. I was extra motivated because I knew that all my family and friends can come to see me participate in Paris. It gave me more energy.”

“I think I thrive in conditions like this,” Pardoe said.

“I like it when it’s wavy, it makes it more difficult for the faster pool swimmers and better for us true open water swimmers who have been doing this since such a young age.

“The water temperature was 20 degrees, that may be difficult for some people in the race, but being from Britain I’m used to cold weather like that, so I didn’t find any issue.

“I felt great during the whole race and just managed to make it happen in the last lap.”