Florian Wellbrock became just the second man to win the 5km and 10km in the same World Aquatics Championships, joining the likes of fellow German Thomas Lurz in the process. He will make Germany a strong favourite to sweep the open water gold medals on Thursday in the Mixed 4x1500m Relay.
It was as close to a replay of Sunday morning as one could get with Germany’s Florian Wellbrock doubling up with gold in the 5K on Tuesday after winning the 10K and securing Olympic qualification two days ago. Diving in and capturing the lead right from the start, the reigning 10K Olympic champion did not let up or let anyone get in front of him as he dictated the pace and the direction of the race.
After 5000 meters, Wellbrock won the gold medal at 53:58.0 and was joined by familiar rivals in Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri (54:02.5) and Domenico Acerenza (54:04.2), who were on his feet the entirety of the race.
“We did something without even knowing,” Paltrinieri said of his teamwork with Acerenza, who is nicknamed Mimmo. “There wasn’t a strategy together, we just wanted to race better than the other day so my plan was to stay in the front of the race because the other day I was a little bit behind and I couldn’t do much. Basically, I tried to touch Florian’s feet every stroke, that was my plan. And Mimmo’s plan was probably the same so we tried to stay with him as long as we could. At some point, we thought about going one left and one right and put Florian in the middle but we couldn’t.
This is Wellbrock’s fifth career gold medal at the World Championships in the open water venue, putting him second all-time on the all-time list after fellow German Thomas Lurz with seven.
Much like the 10K, Wellbrock, who trains with coach Bernd Berkhahn in Magdeburg, swam with the lead the entirety of the race, pulling along the Hungarian duo of David Betlehem and Kristof Rasovszky with him early. The water temperature was 28.3 degrees Celsius at the start, a little warmer than the 25 degree waters that were reported for the 10K on Sunday.
The pace of the race was quick with Wellbrock at the top of his game. At 2000 meters, Wellbrock led a straight line of athletes with the two Italians Acerenza and Paltrinieri following him in second and third.
By 2500 meters, Paltrinieri was on Wellbrock’s feet, but the German was not letting him pass. Acerenza had stayed within striking distance as the Italians tried to work together to take down the German.
By 4000 meters, it was clear these three had kicked away from the rest of the field and that nobody else would come up with a medal as they were 20 seconds ahead of the chase pack. It would take a miracle finish for someone to breach the lead pack in that timespan.
Wellbrock, one of the top distance swimmers in the world right now as he is ranked number one in the world this year in the 1500m freestyle and will take aim at the world record, had Paltrinieri on his heels and finally kicked away on the finishing chute. Wellbrock and Paltrinieri have been two of the best distance swimmers in the world the last few years as they have won the last four World titles in the 1500m freestyle and have shared numerous podiums at the Olympics and World Championships.
“It’s so much fun. I’ve known Domenico and Gregorio for a really long time,” Wellbrock said. “These guys are not just competitors for me, they are also friends and it’s so much fun to share the podium with friends and share this moment.”
Wellbrock won Germany’s fourth gold medal of the open water swimming program with a 53:58.0 with Paltrinieri in silver at 54:02.5 and Acerenza in bronze at 54:04.2.
“It happens every time that me and him are on the podium together,” Paltrinieri said. “We are teammates. We're really close friends. So it's really good to be on the podium again. We share a lot during the year because we train together. We are together most of the time, also in the training camps with the national team and everything. So we are real friends and I'm really happy for him.”
“(Gregorio) is my best friend so I’m really happy to share the podium with him,” Acerenza said. “This is good (for Italy and for our friendship.) My next race is the relay and then we have a world cup in Paris, and then we relax.”
Paltrinieri and Acerenza train together alongside double World champion Leonie Beck with coach Fabrizio Antonelli.
“The training is pretty tough and also the group is really strong,” Paltrinieri said. “Every day, even if you don’t want to push, you have to push because all the guys are pushing. It’s a big group and really competitive. Even if you are not at your best condition, everybody is pushing so that is the most important thing for me to have all the other guys around that are putting pressure on me to perform well in training.”
The result was much better for Paltrinieri, who had problems with his stomach during the preparation that caused him to not be at his best for the 10km.
“I felt better physically in respect to the other day so I was more into the race,” Paltrinieri said in his press conference. “The other day I couldn’t do pretty much anything I wanted to because I didn’t feel the power in my body. Today was a different day. I recovered a little bit so I did pretty much what I planned to do in the race. I am glad I am a little bit back and I can do what I want to do.
“I had a lot of problems this year physically. It wasn’t probably my best season in terms of training and I came here with a problem with my stomach last week;" Paltrinieir added. "In the 10km, I was really ill so I wasn’t feeling alright. The most I could do was stay with the group and try to survive. Today I feel better so I still have a long way until the 1500 in 10 days so it’s a lot but I hope to feel better.”
With just one event left on the open water swimming program at these World Aquatics Championships, Germany is a heavy favourite to win the mixed team relay on Thursday.
“I think everyone knows the German team is in a perfect condition and in perfect shape,” Wellbrock said. “We will have a team meeting tonight and then we will decide the relay and who will swim.”
“I think everyone knows the German team is in a perfect condition and in perfect shape.”
Germany’s Oliver Klemet, who won bronze in the 10km on Sunday, finished fourth nearly a minute behind at 54:57.2, while Hungary’s Betlehem was fifth at 54:58.6 with Greece’s Athanasios Kynigakis in sixth at 54:58.6.
71 swimmers entered the water and 63 athletes finished the race.