Germany made its presence known two weeks ago in Egypt as countrymates Leonie Beck and Florian Wellbrock won the first individual races of the season in what will be a very competitive season of open water swimming. The World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan serve as the first step towards earning an open water entry into the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Image Source: Torin Koos/World Aquatics

The racing is expected to be excellent with a record number of participants on the start lists.

With a shortened Olympic quadrennial due to the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic that delayed the Tokyo Olympics to 2021, it’s hard to believe the Paris qualification period has already started to open up across the five aquatic sport disciplines.

This week’s 10km race in Italy will see the arrival of last year’s World Series champion Gregorio Paltrinieri, who did not race in Egypt but will be racing in his home nation this weekend.

Image Source: Golfo Aranci pre-event presser (DBM/Insidefoto)

Alongside the reigning World Aquatics Champion in the 10km will be fellow Italians Dario Verani, Domenico Acerenza, and Andrea Manzi, among others. Verani and Acerenza won medals at the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest last year, while Manzi placed fifth in the World Series 2022 overall standings.

The Italians and the Germans are the two premiere nations in open water swimming at the moment, with the Germans led by reigning Olympic champion Wellbrock and Oliver Klemet, who is currently seventh in the World Cup rankings.

Image Source: Gabriel Monnet/World Aquatics

A new addition to the Open Water World Series has been the introduction of the junior rankings and the sprint rankings, given to the athletes that lead the races at certain checkpoints. The junior rankings are currently led by France’s Sacha Velly and Germany’s Linus Schwedler, both of whom will be in Italy this coming weekend.

The sprint rankings are currently led by France’s Logan Fontaine, who will not be racing this weekend.

Image Source: István Derecsényi/World Aquatics

Last year’s co-champion Kristof Rasovszky and rising star, now age 19, David Betlehem, will be representing Hungary this weekend as they will not be racing in the mixed team relay, but will be a formidable force in the individual 10K. Rasovszky has had international success in open water swimming, while Betlehem has the look of a potential future star.

Image Source: Torin Koos/World Aquatics

Leonie Beck scored an upset win two weeks ago in Egypt over the last two Olympic champions in Ana Marcela Cunha and Sharon van Rouwendaal, who are perhaps two of the most dominant marathon swimmers of this century. Both swimmers including Beck will be racing in Italy this weekend as all three of them won medals in the 10K at the World Championships last year.

Van Rouwendaal currently has a large lead in the sprint rankings as she will be one of the main favourites this weekend.

Image Source: 2023 OWS WC Leaders: Torin Koos/World Aquatics

If an upset is to occur in the women’s race, look no further than American Katie Grimes, who was fifth at the World Championships last year at age 16. Grimes burst onto the pool scene in 2021 when she made the final in the 800m freestyle at the Olympics at just 15 as the youngest on the American Olympic swim team.

Now with more experience, including two silver medals in Budapest last year in the 400m IM and the 1500m freestyle, Grimes is the next face of open water swimming in the United States.

Image Source: Mike Lewis/World Aquatics

The World Junior champion in open water last year, Grimes did not race in Egypt, as she was racing in the U.S. open water nationals the week before, which she won. She will be racing in Italy this weekend where she will not be taken lightly by the competition.

Veteran Aurelie Muller of France, who will celebrate her 33rd birthday on 7 June, will also be racing after getting fourth in Egypt. Muller is a two-time World champion in the 10K and has been on the outside looking in at the last two World Championships in the 10K, finishing fourth in 2022, and 11th in 2019.

Image Source: István Derecsényi/World Aquatics

The Olympics has been the one hole in Muller’s resume. In 2016, she initially touched second but was disqualified for interfering with a fellow competitor, and she walked away empty-handed. In 2020, she was a spot away from qualification and did not compete in Japan.

Now with a home Olympics on the horizon, Muller will be a sentimental favourite if she can qualify. A win or even a podium appearance this weekend will certainly up her confidence as the countdown to the Fukuoka World Championships continues.

Image Source: Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

The oldest competitor will be American Ashley Twichell, who at age 33 is making her return to the sport after starting a family shortly after the Olympics. Twichell was the World champ in 2017 in the 5K and was sixth at the Olympics in 2021. Recently making her return to competition, she was fourth at the U.S. Nationals in April and will be racing alongside rising stars Grimes and 16-year-old Claire Weinstein and 19-year-old Mariah Denigan.

Image Source: Grimes & Denigan (Mike Lewis/World Aquatics)

Weinstein has the freestyle range from the 200m freestyle, which she finished ninth at the World Championships in in 2022, up to the 10K, where she was third at U.S. Nationals behind Denigan. For a long time, the open water scene in the United States was led by Twichell and Haley Anderson, and now those two World champions have passed the baton off to the likes of Grimes, Denigan, and Weinstein.

Image Source: István Derecsényi/World Aquatics

The Italians will also be sending a large contingent due to the event being in its own waters, as last year’s bronze medalist in the 5K, Giulia Gabbrielleschi and Rio Olympic silver medalist Rachele Bruni will lead a strong team that will team up with the men in the mixed relay.

Image Source: Pre-Event Press Conference (DBM/Insidefoto)

The men’s 10km will begin at 10 a.m. local time on Saturday with the women’s race starting at 12:30 p.m. The Mixed 4x1500m Relay will begin at 9 a.m. on Sunday.

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