It was a coaching clinic at the European Junior Open Water Swimming Championships in Corfu, featuring Olympic champion Ferry Weertman. Then, at the end, it turned into an outstanding lecture on sportsmanship as soon as another legend, world champion and Olympic runner-up Spyridon Gianniotis, joined the discussion.
It started as a genuinely interesting coaching clinic, where open water swimming legend Ferry Weertman, alongside his wife, the one-and-only Ranomi Kromowidjojo, Olympic champion sprinter in the pool, offered some truly valuable insights into bringing up an athlete, from kids to champions. Coaches from the teams participating in the junior open water Europeans in Corfu, as well as interested officials, including European Aquatics President Antonio Silva and Vice-President Kyriakos Giannopoulos, Executive Director Patrice Coste, Sport Director for Aquatics, Apostolos Tsagkarakis were all present.
Towards the end of the clinic, the Olympic, world, and European gold medalist talked about the importance of touching the panel at the finish, the technique for doing it successfully, and the drills he practiced with a portable panel. To provide a memorable example, Weertman showed the unforgettable finish at the Rio Olympics. Being in Greece, after a while, many local coaches started shouting, ‘Enough, enough, you can stop it now!’ – as Weertman was about to catch up to the home hero Spyridon Gianniotis, who seemed to be a sure winner with just 10-15 meters to go. However, Weertman came with his monstrous strokes and out-touched the Greek world champion for the title.
It was such an unlikely move – as his head was clearly behind Gianniotis’ cap – that at first, the Greek was shown as the winner; only minutes later was Weertman declared the Olympic champion after checking the photo finish.
This was the moment when Gianniotis joined the discussion: ‘I just watched Ferry, while Ferry focused solely on the panel.’ Then he recalled how he learned from a TV reporter in the mixed zone, soon after the race, that the Greek delegation had filed a protest to reverse the referee’s decision. ‘I wasn’t aware of that, and I didn’t agree to any kind of protest. Ferry touched first, I was second; there should be no way to change it. I also said that in case they accepted the protest, I would personally file another one to annul that decision. The order had to stay as it was because that was the right order. This is open water swimming; we have to treat each other fairly and always accept it if someone is better than you.’
Gianniotis received a big round of applause for offering perhaps one of the most valuable insights of the evening, an approach that all coaches must teach young athletes.
Then, as a conclusion, Weertman and Gianniotis posed for some photos side by side, next to the big screen where they had also stood together on the Rio podium. Seven years on, they looked as young as they did in their heydays!