(Lac St-Jean, Canada) – A rainy Thursday marked a great day for Italy in open water swimming, as Simone Ruffini and Federico Vanelli went 1-2 in the men’s 10km World Cup race in Lac St-Jean, Canada, and Arianna Bridi dominated the women’s event by more than a minute.

The men’s race was hard to call, as it saw about a half dozen lead changes in the first five (of six) laps.  Richard Weinberger of Canada led at the end of the first lap. Diogo Villarinho of Brazil pulled six body lengths ahead of the pack in the second lap but couldn’t sustain it. By the end of the third lap, Eric Hedlin of Canada was in front but, by the end of the fourth loop, Villarinho was setting the pace again after chopping 27 seconds off the previous lap. By the end the fifth loop, however, Hedlin dropped out of the race and Villarinho remained in charge - pushed by two Germans (Christian Reichert and Andreas Waschburger).

Then the rain came.  

With less than a kilometer remaining, six men broke away - led by Vanelli, the World Cup points leader. Ruffini was right behind him, Waschburger was third, and Reichert was fourth.

In the home stretch, the Italians pulled away and – in a finish reminiscent of 2016 – one man (Vanelli) swung wide to the right and one (Ruffini) went straight for the touch pad.  

“In that moment, when Federico go out [wide],” Ruffini said, “I thought – okay, now I go! So I touched for first place.” And while the victory marked Ruffini’s first 10km victory of the season, he said his plan was simply to finish. “I arrived at this race very tired because Friday at World Championships I swim 25km [and placed fourth]. Before this race, when I speak with my coach, he said, ‘Just swim. No go for victory. Just swim the whole race because you are very tired.’”

The runner-up, Vanelli, who was competing in Lac St-Jean for the first time, and said his less-than-linear approach to the finish was simply, “error. I see blue and arrivée and I got confused. But – I [still] gave victory to Team Italy.”

After a dogfight for third place, only 1.6 seconds separated the next three swimmers. Bronze ultimately went to the 19-year-old Canadian biology student Hau-Li Fan who was competing in his first World Cup – and only the fourth open-water race of his life.

“Going into that race,” Fan said, “it was like: if I can just finish and not come last, I’ll be pretty happy. I’m a pool swimmer. This is my first real open water. I’ve done two 4K and one 6K, but just outdoor swims.” And while he laughed at the thought of someday completing the famous 32km lake crossing here, his future now seems clear. “I don’t really have the speed to compete in pool swimming,” Fan said. “I think endurance is a huge thing I’m good at.

Simone Ruffini and Federico Vanelli of Italy finish 1-2

The women’s race started in a torrential downpour which, a day earlier, Ana Marcela Cunha said she preferred, but the Brazilian who captured three medals at the 2017 World Championships only asserted the lead at the midpoint of the race. It didn’t last (nor did the rain), however, and on lap four, Bridi made her decisive move along the shoreline of Roberval harbor and created a 22 second lead with two laps to go. No one could catch her or match her 74 strokes-per-minute and, with one lap to go, Bridi extended her lead to 59 seconds over the field.  In the sixth and final loop, Bridi even lapped a swimmer – or two – and was still flying solo with the nearest swimmer a full 2 minutes,30 seconds behind.

In addition to Bridi’s relentless pace, there was an interesting development in the fifth lap when Bridi’s teammate Rachele Bruni was in second place and speeding up to catch her when the Italian coach shouted across the lake to get Bruni’s attention and, in the final feed zone, urged Bruni and the trio’s training partner Samantha Arevalo of Ecuador “no pusha, no pusha.” He seemed to be warning them that if they pushed the pace, the entire field would come with them. Eventually, they were overtaken by two Brazilians for second and third: Cunha and Viviane Jungblut, respectively.

Bruni, who is vying for her third consecutive World Cup 10km overall title, placed ninth. And Arevalo, who was tied with Cunha for third place in the World Cup standings before Thursday’s race, finished sixth.

After the race, a shivering Bridi said that she had planned her big move in the fourth lap and, despite her enormous lead, only knew that she won “at the finish.”

Cunha, the runner-up, said, “I’m very happy for the second place because last week, I competed all the races in the world championships and from Budapest I go to Rio, I go to Sao Paulo, and I come to Canada. I stayed three days in the airplane.” Cunha also said she realized that if she tried to catch Bridi then “the group [will] come together. So I think no, I need to stay here and go to the final sprint.”

As for Jungblut, she said, “third place is better than I expected,” even though the 21-year-old also placed second behind Bruni at the last World Cup race in Setabul, Portugal, in June. “This is the third World Cup race in my life,” she explained. “I’m a swimming pool girl. I changed [to open water] this year.”  So maybe a star is born. Keep an eye on Jungblut at the next World Cup 10km, at Lac Mégantic, Canada, on August 12.

Arianna Bridi (ITA) dominates the field


FINA/HOSA 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup #4, Lac St-Jean (CAN)

1.    Simone Ruffini (ITA) 1:56:11.1
2.    Federico Vanelli (ITA)  1:56:13.7
3.    Hau-Li Fan (CAN) 1:56:17.4
4.    Allan Do Carmo (BRA) 1:56:17.7
5.    Andreas Waschburger (GER) 1:56:18.5

1.    Arianna Bridi (ITA) 2:03:15.5
2.    Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA) 2:04:24.9
3.    Viviane Jungblut (BRA) 2:04:26.4
4.    Anna Greta Olasz (HUN) 2:04:42.9
5.    Sarah Bosslet (GER) 2:04:43.0

Simone Ruffini discusses his victory

Federico Vanelli explains tactical error near the finish

Arianna Bridi reflects on victory

Ana Marcela Cunha (right) and Viviane Jungblut (left) finish 2-3 for Brazil