Leonie Beck Perfectly Times the 10km Gold in Fukuoka

Image Source: Leonie Beck was unstoppable in the open waters of Fukuoka (Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics)

It was the very first medal event of the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan and it set the tone for the two-week competition. The three medalists would go on to automatically advance to the 2024 Olympics in Paris, and the race was as intense as the stakes.

Germany’s Leonie Beck had stayed in the back of the pack throughout the majority of the race, before breaching the lead on the final lap, and she swam away from the rest of the world as the field fought for the finish. Australia’s Chelsea Gubecka, who set the pace for the front half of the near-2-hour race, won the silver medal, while USA’s Katie Grimes took down the last two Olympic champions in Sharon van Rouwendaal and Ana Marcela Cunha to secure the bronze medal and the final automatic spot in Paris.

Although the latter two legends will still have an opportunity to qualify for the 2024 Olympics, the 10K in Fukuoka was perhaps a turning point in the state of the sport - Beck is now the woman to beat in the 10K while Grimes appears to be a future superstar in distance swimming, and Gubecka leads a surging Australian team into the future.

Image Source: A cool and confident Leonie Beck ocompetes in the Open Water Women's 10km on day one of the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka, Japan (Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

“I am really grateful and really happy with the race,” Beck said in her post-race press conference. “I think I could manage the first half to save a bit of energy. The last lap, I was fighting for my life. It was really hard for me and I think this day is a really good day for me.

“I tried to stay calm in the beginning and not to lose the pack, but also not to swim very fast,” Beck said. “I was always somewhere in the top 20 and then on the last lap I was fourth. I tried to catch Sharon (van Rouwendaal) and Chelsea and then I saw, ‘wow this is getting really hard.’ I was exhausted but I didn’t stop fighting, and I fought so much and didn’t stop, and at one point I caught them. The last 400 meters, I didn’t recognize I was passing them and I was just swimming and fighting to the end.”

Beck was also the overall World Cup champion for 2023, winning two of the four 10km races on the 2023 tour.

Italy Takes Down the World in the Mixed Team Relay to Win the Gold

Image Source: Domenico Acerenza, Gregorio Paltrinieri, Barbara Pozzobon and Ginevra Taddeucci of Team Italy celebrate relay gold in Fukuoka (Istvan Derencsenyi/World Aquatics)

It was a near foregone conclusion before the race even started. After the men’s and women’s 10K and 5K races in Fukuoka, Germany had won all four gold medals, and picked up another bronze in the men’s 10K. With the only event remaining being the 4x1500m mixed team relay, it appeared on the outside that no country could match the Germans in the final event on the program.

But on race day when Germany revealed it was resting champion Florian Wellbrock for the pool racing the next week, the race for gold got a little more interesting, and the Italians pounced on the opportunity.

The team of Barbara Pozzobon, Ginevra Taddeucci, Domenico Acerenza, and Gregorio Paltrinieri put together the perfect race to take down the almighty Germans, and celebrated poolside with coach Fabrizio Antonelli in a memorable celebration.

Image Source: Aniko Kovacs/World Aquatics

“It was big,” Paltrinieri said during the post-race press conference. “We spent hours yesterday but also during the season trying to fix this relay. We won many times at the Europeans but we’ve never won the relay at the Worlds so that was our goal to try to win the gold.

“Germany probably was the favourite but we knew other teams were really strong. Everybody had a job and we did it perfectly so it was good to come out of the water and find everybody close to me.”

The Germans ended up finishing fourth behind the teams from Hungary and Australia.

Domenico Acerenza Wins the Scuffle in Portugal in Final World Cup Race

Image Source: Domenico Acerenza of Italy competes in he 10km mens race of the World Aquatics Open Water Swimming World Cup - Funchal 2023 (Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

It was the final major open water race of the calendar year and the men’s race was pure open water racing in the waters off the island of Madeira, Portugal - up to 15 swimmers were in contention for a top three finish as they scrapped and clawed for a spot in the narrowing finishing chute.

As the lead changed hands multiple times on the back half of the race, it was Italy’s Domenico Acerenza who was able to come out of the final turn buoy with a lead as he was sling-shotted to the front and didn’t look back. In a race that is so tactical with speed play, Acerenza played his cards perfectly and took down the best guys in the world - including World champion Florian Wellbrock and future hall of fame teammate Gregorio Paltrinieri.

Image Source: Domenico Acerenza of Italy (C), with Nicholas Sloman of Australia and third placed Kristof Rasovszky of Hungary pose on the podium following the the 10km mens race of the World Aquatics Open Water Swimming World Cup - Funchal 2023 (Octavio Passos/Getty Images)

“I felt good in the race. There’s a lot of guys on form and it was a tight race. It was very tough and I am very happy, and I am ready for this season,” Acerenza said after the race. “It was very difficult but in the last lap I tried to do my best and go in front and in the last lap, I thought, ‘where is the finish?’”

Australia’s Nick Sloman came out of the fray in second place, opening up a new era for open water swimming in Australia, while Hungary’s Kristof Rasovszky finished third overall and won the World Cup crown for the year.

Australia Wins World Cup Relay to Close Year and Open Up New Era in Open Water Swimming

Image Source: Hiroyuki Nakamura/World Aquatics (file photo from the OWS Relay at the Fukuoka 2023 Worlds)

Australia had perhaps its most successful World Championships in 2023 across the board - with gold medals out of swimming and diving, and two medals out of open water swimming. In the final open water race of the 2023 World Cup tour in Portugal, the team of Moesha Johnson, Chelsea Gubecka, Bailey Armstrong and Kyle Lee took down the World Champion Italians in an upset finish.

Johnson and Gubecka opened up a big lead on the front half and Lee was able to hold off the likes of Domenico Acerenza and Kristof Rasvoszky to seal the victory for the green and gold. It was a statement swim from the Australians to show that they are now amongst the elite European nations in open water swimming, and perhaps this won’t be considered an upset in future races. It started with their bronze medal in the relay at the World Championships and it continued into the World Cup in December.

“I had a look last night (at our medal chances) coming into this race and I know in the last 10 years with me being on the team I haven’t seen a medal produced for team Australia,” Gubecka said after the relay at the World Championships. “So for me personally it is very special and I think this whole team can agree we have created history today for our country and we are super proud of that.”