A day of contrasting races brought the same result for team Hungary at the FINA World Junior Open Water Swimming Championships. A strong sea breeze and scattered rain showers played to the strengths of open water standouts – none more so than Hungary’s David Betlehem and Bettina Fabian as the national teammates took the Men’s and Women’s 10km races in Beau Vallon Bay in Mahe, Seychelles.
Men’s 10km | Ages 18-19
Coming off progressively impressive open water 10km performances in the senior ranks, David Betlehem put on the dominating performance so far at the fifth edition of the FINA World Junior Open Water Swimming Championships.The Hungarian raced from the front, then won going away in 1:53:10.3.
Third in the 5km 14-15 age category of the 4th FINA World Junior Open Water Swimming Championships in Eilat, Israel in 2018, Betlehem put on a powerful display, crushing the competition with a 4:32 advantage over his nearest pursuers, the Italian duo of Pasquale Giordano and Giuseppe Ilario.
Taking a wider line into the finishing straight, Ilario looked to have the advantage over Giordano with 150m to go, but Giordano prevailed in 1:57:42.8 with Ilario clocking 1:57:44.2.
Training out of the Balaton Uszo swim club with FINA World Championships and Olympic medallist Kristof Rasovszky, Betlehem expressed a bit of surprise with how much effort and pace the two Italians brought for the first of four laps, making him question a bit how the day would transpire.
“Coming in for the first drink, I felt their pressure a bit,” Betlehem recalled after the race. “I only had a ten-metre advantage; I felt I needed a little bit more.”
From there, the nineteen-year-old’s advantage would only grow: at 5km, Betlehem’s lead was 1:45; at 7.5km, the gap had widened to 3:00; at the finish, Betlehem won by 4:32 over Giordano and Ilario.
Coming into the third lap, which Betlehem said was “really painful,” he asked his coaches in the feeding zone if he could turn down the pace a bit for the final 2.5km loop. His coaches said he could.
“I then thought, ‘I can handle this. I can handle this.’”
Still, Betlehem’s had the pace: his fourth lap (28:50) was slightly faster than his third (28:56).
Highlighting the performance further was the nearly six-minute break between the winner’s time and the three-way battle for fourth place between Yonatan Ahdut of Israel (1:59:05.2), Brazil’s Luiz Felipe Loureiro (1:59:07.5) and Connor Buck of South Africa (1:59:07.6).
The swim-from-the-front tactic is something Betlehem tried at the recent European Championships in Italy. Having gained a 47-second advantage on the likes of Gregorio Paltrinieri, Domenico Acerenza and Marc-Antoine Olivier, Betlehem couldn’t quite hold the lead to the finish. Swimming a bit off course didn’t help either. Here in Seychelles, Betlehem thinks he’s getting closer to perfecting this go-from-the-gun race approach.
“I’m so thankful for Kristof (Rasovszky). He’s like, ‘You can do it. You can do it.’ I did something similar in Paris (FINA Marathon Swim Series second leg) and then in Canada (FINA Marathon Swim Series third leg) was kind of a breakthrough for me. Finishing third there showed I can be at the top level. I now have a lot more confidence racing this way.”
Women’s 10km | Ages 18-19
With the men’s race defined by a singular performance, Hungary completed the golden double thanks to the efforts of Bettina Fabian pulled ahead of a stacked select group in the final 250m, winning in 2:03:11.4.
“The race was pretty hard; I wanted to try David (Betlehem’s) tactic that I’d lead the first lap, but then I was second on the second lap, then ninth or tenth on the third,” Fabian said after the victory ceremony. “The finish was the best part in all of the race. I tried really hard; I really wanted to win. I’m really happy that I did it."
“I really can’t describe how happy I am right now. I really can’t believe it," Fabian added. "Still, I’m shaking and I’m trying to realize that I’m the new junior world championship champion. I worked really hard for it and I think we really deserve it.”
Photo of the Day | What Winning Looks Like Underwater
Coming Up | Sundays are for Relay Racing
The FINA World Junior Open Water Championships wrap up on Sunday with two 4x1500m Mixed Relay events: one strictly for athletes aged 14-16 and another open category for athletes 14-19. Teams will be comprised of two male and two female competitors, with competitors allowed to compete in only one race on Sunday.
- 8:00 local time – Mixed 4x1500m (14-16)
- 10:00 local time – Mixed 4x1500
With 35 countries competing in Seychelles, look for plenty of top-level teams – including the USA which took three titles on Friday in the 14-15 and 16-17 age categories and Hungary that paired Hunor Kovacs-Seres’ from-the-front win in the Men’s 7.5km with today’s wins from Betlehem and Fabian.
Taking a moment to reflect on their races, Betlehem noted that Hungary – and his – still have ambitions in Seychelles: winning the relay.
“We really need to focus. Tomorrow, there will be the relay. We want to win again. Our team is really, really good, I think one of the best so we need to be focused and do what we can.”
Added Fabian: “It’s not a secret that we want to win the relay as well. We will do our best and hope it comes out as good as today.”
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