Monday, October 22. 2007
Written by Steve Munatones
Hold On. Hold Fast. Hold Out.
Before Mark Warkentin, 27 of Santa Barbara Swim Club, out-dueled Chip Peterson of North Carolina, to win the World Championship Open Water Trials in Miromar Lake today, he had to overcome his natural instincts to take the lead…until the very end.
Like Micha Burden, the women’s 10K winner yesterday, Mark settled himself comfortably behind his competitors throughout the majority of the race, using positioning to his optimal advantage.
The weather (89°F) was slightly cooler than yesterday’s women’s race due to the drop in humidity from 74% to 60%, a lower water temperature (84°F to 82°F) and a slightly greater wind. As the group of 22 men lined up in their positions, it was clear this race included the Who’s Who of American open water swimming:
Chip Peterson, the 2005 World 10K Champion, and multi-time national 5K and 10K champion.
Noa Sakamoto and John Flanagan, former Waikiki Roughwater Swim winners and top Grand Prix finishers, both representing their home state of Hawaii. Mark Warkentin, a World Cup winner, two-time 25K national champion and multiple California ocean swim winner. Fran Crippen, a Pan American Games and Pan Pacific Swimming 10K champion. Scott Kaufmann, a highly regarded competitor who has represented the US at the 2005 and 2007 World Swimming Championships Chad La Tourette of Mission Viejo and Josef Kinderwater of WSY Swimming who both attended recent Open Water Select Camps and are tough up-and-coming young competitors. John Kenny, a multiple National Open Water Team member and top 25K swimmer.
Before the race, there was significant tension in the air. The usual more laid-back atmosphere of open water swims gave way to a level of seriousness and focus more typical of Olympic Trials, pool-style. The swimmers checked out their navigational lines in their warm-ups and walked down the lakeside to the race start. Everyone knew, based on the results of the women’s race, that the race was up for grabs…for those who were patient and tactical enough to outwit and out-sprint their competitors.
The field started off strong, heading straight into a slight surface chop and slight morning sun’s glare.
Swimming past numerous multi-million-dollar mansions surrounding Lake Como, the field immediately formed into a classic European pack with everyone jockeying into position, hitting each other’s feet and hands, muscling their way around or away from others. Many of the pre-race favorites quickly found themselves in the front of the pack: Fran Crippen, Chip Peterson, Chad La Tourett and Noa Sakamoto.
But, there was one conspicuous absence: Mark Warkentin.
Where was Mark? Pulling up the rear.
Was this the same Mark who likes to lead? Sure was…swimming calmly and smoothly at the caboose.
Despite Mark’s position, he was still no more than 10 meters away from the leader. Fran was frequently joined in the front by 3-4 other competitors in a classic “4-wide” (4 swimmers swimming stroke-for-stroke and side-by-side to one another), followed by another 6-wide and yet another 7-wide. The spectacular stack of athletes was similar to the packs that are so often found at European or FINA open water races.
Around the athletes went the first set of 3 large turn buoys, along with audible grunts and groans heard by observers on the head referee’s boat and media boat.
By the latter half of the first 2.K loop, Indiana’s John Koehler had taken the lead from Fran, Noa, Chip and Chad…followed immediately by 20 competitors, all swimming aggressively and all who were not about to let John get too far away. Then, John let loose with a large splash of his kick…he didn’t appreciate those behind him tapping, tapping, tapping on his feet.
Gradually, one of one, swim caps started to come off and the pack of closely shaven heads were all swimming and eyeballing each other under the surface.
A whistle was called before the end of the first loop by Sid Cassidy, the head referee, as the competitors continued to swim in close proximity to one another, frequently invading each other’s space.
Before the end of the first loop, John was overcome by yet another quickly formed 4-wide and the ever-present 6-wide along the second line behind the leaders.
And, where was Mark Warkentin lurking? In the back, patiently bidding his time.
Stroke counts during the course of first 2.K loop were Fran at 36 and 37, Chip at 40 and 42, Chad at 34 and 34, and Noa at 40 and 40. Throughout the second loop, the field continued to surge and lay back at different times and in various formations of 4-wides, 6-wides and an occasionally impressive 8-wide. It was still early and still anyone’s ball game…and all of the swimmers seemed to know their relative positions and the need to continue drafting.
A little over 3K, Noa decided to temporarily take the lead after getting heavily jostled around in the middle of a 6-wide. With a swimmer willing to take the lead, a Mission Viejo duo, Fran and Chad, comfortably settled in behind Noa, thankful for being able to ride in his wake.
Then, just as soon as Noa was in the lead, did another 5-wide form right behind him, followed by another 5-wide. Some observers thought the group looked like an overcrowded warm-up pool during an age-group meet. Others likened the race to a heavyweight boxing match where the swimmers would occasionally throw a jab, only to glance off the shoulder of his competitors.
Then, Noa was on his back, slowing down to let others pull the train. Fran, Chip, Chad, Noa…each was taking his turn to shake the group and fight for some clear water. Meanwhile, competitors like John Flanagan, John Kenny and Scott Kaufmann remained right in the middle of the back…like Mark…just bidding their time.
3K…4K…5K…back-and-forth…surge and slow…lead, draft, fall-back. Chip was wisely swimming towards the front, always at the fringes, generally with only one swimmer at his side. Less-experienced swimmers would battle competitors on both their left and right shoulders.
Before the 5K turn buoys, the Mission Viejo duo of Fran and Chad sprinted out ahead to get some clear water and round the buoys smoothly without danger of getting their goggles knocked off or getting kicked.
Around the 5K turn buoys went the entire group, each lining themselves up for an important feed. More grunts and groans were heard amid warning whistles from the referees.Through the 5K mark, Fran continued at a 37 strokes per minute pace, while Chad held at 36 and Fran at 39. At one point, when the group slowed and Chip refused to take the lead, his stroke count dropped to 30.
Around the 6K point, Chip moved unexpectedly into the lead with a strong kick…was this his break? Was this the time for Chip to break away from the pack and take control of the race, while Mark was still sitting back in 15th place? No. Chip simply moved into position to roll-over on his back, calmly take a gel pack from his swim suit and down it in one quick gulp. Without missing a stroke, Chip was back swimming freestyle, settling comfortably in second place. It was another classic move that is so often seen by more experienced European professional open water swimmers.
At 7K, the pack was still swimming relatively slowly, knowing that the last loop was looming ahead of them. The more experienced swimmers like John Flanagan and Scott Kaufmann were stealthily moving into prime position…as was Mark Warkentin.
Around the 7.5K turn buoys, the tension shown on the swimmers’ faces before the race was mirrored by the concern shown by the coaches on the 3 feeding stations. This last all-important feeding was going to be a zoo, with everyone wanting to get a good feed.
Feeding sticks of all lengths and styles were ready for the oncoming group of fast-moving swimmers. There was no holding back now, the pace had quickened. Mark has moved up behind Fran, but the distance from Fran to the end of the pack was still only 15 meters.
Closer and closer the swimmers came to the feeding pontoons. Cheers were heard from the teammates, parents and fans along the lake. As the swimmers came into feed, bodies slammed into one another, cups were lost, feeding sticks were overturned by swimmer’s arms…and yet a majority of swimmers got in and out with at least a decent gulp or two.
“Good feed!”, said a smiling John Dussliere, coach of Mark Warkentin, who had devised a well-engineered special feeding stick.
“GO, CHIP, GO!” encouraged Catherine Vogt, long-time coach of Chip Peterson.
“$8q!%$*#” yelled another coach whose cup was accidentally overturned by the arm stroke of another swimmer.
By the 8K, Mark had moved into the lead with strong powerful strokes and Chip at his heels, following by another 4-wide and 5-wide. Although Mark and Chip had dropped a few swimmers by the last set of turn buoys, it was still anyone’s race.
Around the last set of buoys, Fran and Chad seemed to slam into others and lost a bit of ground, but Mark and Chip were both within a body’s length.
With less than 1000 meters to go, Mark swung out wide from the small white navigational buoy to take a great line to the 400-meter straightaway finish. Chip followed with Noa, Fran, Chad and the rest of the group all kicking and giving it everything they had.
800 meters to go and Mark had clearly established himself as the front-runner. Only Chip was within spitting distance.
600 meters to go and Chip was kicking in high gear. He came up along Mark and it was mano-a-mano. The rest of the field was fighting for 3rd and 4th.
Down the straightaway, Mark and Chip went at each other: stroke-for-stroke, side-by-side. West Coast vs. East Coast. College grad vs. college underclassman.
400 meters. 300 meters.
Onshore, the crowd was waiting in anticipation. They could see two swimmers in the lead, but who was on the left…who was on the right? And the second pack was a 5-wide with everyone taking a different line.
200 meters. 150. 100. Race announcers, Erica Rose and Dave Thompson called the race as it reached its climax.
Chip surged. Mark surged. Chip got a tad in front. Then, Mark went back at him. Chip’s kick was the same strong 6-beat that won him a World Championship. But, today was Mark’s day. He bid his time and prepared himself well for this last sprint.
Towards the end, Mark got the jump on Chip and just edged out Chip 1:57:01.84 to Chip’s 1:57:03.64. Josef Kinderwater put on the after-burners to place an unexpected third.
Both Mark and Chip now join Micha Burden and Kirsten Groome at the 2008 World Open Water Swimming Championships in hopes of grabbing a top 10 spot as one of the finalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics 10K Marathon Swim.
“I thought how everyone was going to make a move (at the end),” recalled Mark who was still shaking 10 minutes after the race ended. “When Chip came up on me, I was so nervous that someone else was on the other side who I couldn’t see. I was scared that a herd of swimmers where right at our feet and were going to bear down on us.” Considering the frequency of having 3-, 4-, 5- and 6-wides during the race, Mark’s fears were understandable.
Mark continued, “I have never won another big race before. I knew the big push would come, and I was waiting and waiting because I knew it would come. I didn’t think I was one of the race favorites. Honestly, I thought I was just going to get third or fourth, but I was patient in this race…and I have been impatient in other races before.”
Chip later remarked, “I felt the entire race was like Seville’s 10K race earlier this year. I felt comfortable in the pack. This is almost a dream come true. The next step is to qualify for the Olympics and get some more World Cup races in before Seville.”
“In a race like this, it really doesn’t matter if you get first or second,” said Mark as he commented on his and Chip’s automatic selection as America’s male representatives. “It’s shocking (to me). I’ve gone to every practice and my shot finally came. I can’t describe what this win feels like, but I have been away from home for 12 of the last 14 weeks training at altitude in either Colorado Springs or Mexico…”
As Warkentin said, "At 27 and at the end of my career, this probably would have been the last race."
Not quite yet.
With the Seville 10K team now set, USA Swimming’s next goal is to help prepare these athletes for the all-important 10K race in a Seville river. The top 10 swimmers in Seville will automatically qualify for the Olympic 10K finals in the Olympic rowing basin on either August 20th (female) or August 21st (male).
Women's Race Swimming Smart Leads to Victory
Written by Steve Munatones
Micha Burden, originally from Alaska and currently training in Mission Viejo, California, upset a stellar field of open water stars to win the USA Swimming Open Water World Championship Trials on Saturday, October 20 in Miromar Lakes, Florida. Kirsten Groome, 17 of First Colony Swim Team, just edged out Chloe Sutton, also of Mission Viejo Nadadores, to take second. Both Micha and Kirsten will represent the US in the 10K Olympic selection meet in Seville, Spain in late April 2008 with Chloe as the alternate. The top 10 swimmers in the Seville Olympic meet will be chosen to participate in the 10K Marathon Swim at the 2008 Beijing Olympics in August.
The 10K race between the best 20 open water swimmers in the U.S. started just before 9 am until cloudy skies. The water temperature was nearly 85° with an air temperature of 82°F and 74% humidity. “It was very hot out there and hydration is very important,” said Dave Thomas, Sport Development official with USA Swimming. “But this will be very similar to the weather and swimming conditions in Seville and in Beijing.”
The course was a very well-marked 10K loop course in Lake Como, a man-made lake near Ft. Myers. The race included 4 loops nearly 2.5K in length with a special 400+ meter straightaway sprint to the finish chute off the main course. There were small white directional buoys every 10 meters throughout the loop course, with the ends of the loop course marked by large orange turn buoys. In all, the swimmers had to navigate around 24 turn buoys before heading to the 400-meter finish straightaway.
The 20 female Olympic aspirants ranged in ages from 14-year-old Eva Fabian of Greenwood Memorial Swim Club in Massachusetts, to former four-year Stanford All-American, Lisa Hazen at 43. Eva swam exceedingly well in placing sixth in 2 hours 3 minutes and 56 seconds, while Lisa Hazen finished 17th.
But, right from the start, the race belonged to Micha, Kirsten, Chloe and 2004 Olympian Kalyn Keller. The foursome quickly distanced themselves from the rest of the field and steadily opened up an ever-increasing gap throughout the race.
50 meters from the start, Chloe took control of the race with Kirsten, Micha and Kalyn falling right in line behind her, utilizing her draft to their advantage. “I knew they (Chloe, Kirsten and Kalyn) were the ones to watch for and I knew they would take the lead,” said Micha after the race. “I just took one lap at a time and wanted to be able to counter their moves.” The former Huntington Beach lifeguard obviously knew what she was doing for she was never more than a foot off of either Chloe or Kirsten, drafting and bidding her time.
The foursome completed the first 2.K loop in 29:44 where it was clearly became a four-person race. Due to the exceedingly warm water and weather conditions, hydration became an important factor in the race. A series of three floating pontoons were set right off the race course where the swimmers’ teammates and coaches were well-positioned to hand them water, Gatorade and gel packs. Stroke for stroke, kilometer after kilometer, the four competitors continued swimming at a punishing, but steady pace.
“I only had a whistle at the girls once,” said Sid Cassidy, the head referee. “It was on the first loop and Kirsten and Micha were just bumping a little too much. I didn’t give them a (yellow-card) warning, but only wanted them to separate a little bit. After that, the race was fair’”
Despite the jockeying for positioning and the boat traffic kicking up exhaust, the swimmers were relatively consistent in their stroke cycles. But, nothing was as consistent as the ability for Micha to draft off of either Chloe or Kirsten. Chloe was estimated to lead the pack for nearly 70% of the first 4 loops with Kirsten pulling the train for 20%. The remaining 10% of the time, either Chloe or Kirsten were making a move towards first, or were falling back to take advantage of the slight stream. But, whether it was loop #1, #2, #3 or #4, Micha was always right there, no further back than a few inches, or at most one foot, off of her competitors who were creating advantageous wakes and fast water for her. “You can save as much as 20% energy by drafting in the position that Micha is doing,” observed Dave Thomas.
The swimmers finished loop #2 in 30:06 as they continued to battle each other. Around the second loop, though, Chloe missed a feed and had to adjust. Kalyn, on the other hand, had some excellent feeds from her coach, John Urbanchek from Club Wolverine. Kirsten and Micha continued with their plans. “I knew Chloe, Kirsten and Kalyn were going to go out strong. I just wanted to have a little extra at the end.”
Loop #3 continued in much of the same manner as the first 5K: Chloe in first, Kirsten in second, Micha in third and Kalyn in fourth, with an occasional change in the lead position between Chloe and Kirsten. With so much at stake, no one was about to give an inch. Numerous times the competitors hit hands or bumped, but only one time during the first loop did head referee Sid Cassidy whistle and warn the competitors to separate.
Rick Walker, a long-time USA National Open Water Team Coach, and Dave Thomas, continued a race commentary from the lead boat throughout the race. This enabled the parents, coaches, teammates and fans who lined the edge of the lake to have a better understanding of the relative positioning of the top swimmers. As the athletes rounded the start area and feeding pontoons after every loop, they were greeted by cheer from their teammates, coaches, parents and fans. Other than that, the only sounds were the steady, smooth arm strokes of the athletes pushing themselves around the 10K course.
By the third loop, the rain had stopped and beautiful rainbows could be seen over the course. Obviously, something special was about to unfold in the final loop. The four girls had swum 7.5K, all at each other’s heels or within 1 stroke of each other. Knowledgeable fans assumed that the race would come down to a sprint between Chloe, one of the world’s hottest open water swimmers over the past summer, Kirsten Groome, another national open water champion and recent winner of a FINA World Cup 10K race, and Kalyn, the well-known silver medalist at the 2007 World Championships. All three are accomplished pool swimmers with the requisite speed and endurance to compete – and beat – the world’s best open water swimmers from Europe, Australia and South America.
But, it was to be unassuming and unheralded Micha’s day.
Coming into the final loop, with a little more than 2 kilometers to go, the race could not be more tactical. Who was going to make a move and when? Chloe was on a roll, but she had led the group for much of the race. Kirsten has the speed, but she had also pulled along her competitors for much of the race. Kalyn, always a dangerous threat, was looming just behind everyone and well-poised to make her move. The spectators waited and wondered: who would bring it home the best?
With less than 2K to go, Micha pulled around Kirsten and started swimming stroke-for-stroke with Chloe in first as she picked up her kick. Kirsten, who trains in Shreveport, Louisiana, stayed right on their heels. Drafting, an acquired skill in open water swimming, was nothing new to these competitors who are all well-schooled in the art. The pace picked up and the threesome surprisingly started to extend their lead over Kalyn. With 1.5K to go, it was Mission Viejo 1-2, but it was still really anyone’s race, including Kalyn who had dropped off about 5 meters from Chloe and Micha.
With a 1K to go, Chloe, Micha and Kirsten rounded the final 3 turn buoys as close as physically possible, but Chloe on the inside track. They were so close that they would occasionally – and inadvertently – hit one other. Both Chloe and Micha went around the first buoy cleanly with Kirsten right at their heels. All three cleared the second turn buoy well, but then Chloe and Micha both took a sharper turn than necessary. Once they realized their error after a few strokes, they slammed into one another, arms interlocked. Both came to a sudden standstill, nearly vertical in the water.
“I was really mad,” recalled Micha. “But, I couldn’t get angry and had to stay calm.” Meanwhile, Kirsten immediately took the lead, but Chloe recovered quickly and they exited the final turn buoy swimming together.
Micha later recalled, “I needed to keep my strokes long and stay on their feet. I wanted to be on the inside (going into the final sprint straightaway). Over the last two weeks. I wrote out my strategy and read it over every day. This is what I was expecting and I couldn’t let this bother me.”
With 600 meters to go, Micha recovered and moved into a three-way tie for first with Chloe and Kirsten. Kalyn had dropped off the pace and it was clear that the top 2 spots would go to these 3 competitors.
With 500 meters to go, Micha continued her powerful kick and put on a spurt that could not be matched by either Chloe or Kirsten. “She looks strong – look at her kick,” observed Rick Walker. Sid Cassidy said, “She has this great kick that was so powerful underwater.”
Micha remembered, “After I settled down, I decided to make a move.” And, her move was indeed spectacular. With 400 meters to go, she had built a lead of at least 5 meters…and it was growing with every stroke. “She really picked up her kick and looked strong out there,” said Paul Asmuth who was on the head referee boat and was instrumental in helping organize a great event along with Jay Thomas, Gregg Cross and a hospitable group of dedicated volunteers.
With 200 meters to go, Micha’s kick and sprint were clearly going to propel her to victory. But, as much as her aerobic conditioning was part of her victory, her level-headed race strategy and drafting enabled her to out-sprint her competition. Throughout the first 8K, she was always swimming totally within someone’s draft and conserving energy. When she decided to make her move, she did – and it was her competition that was unable to react.
As Micha pulled to victory, the race for the second spot on the US team was up for grabs. Chloe and Kirsten were sprinting and kicking as best they could for that coveted Olympic selection spot the final 600 meters. They were essentially even, stroke-for-stroke, as the crowd waited in anticipation. Kirsten put her head down and beat Chloe by a body length.
“I didn’t expect the lead to change so much throughout the race,” said Kirsten. “I made a move at the end and it feels great to qualify. I expect the Americans will do well in Seville.”
As she looked back on her victory, Micha said with a radiant smile, “I took one lap at a time. I wanted to be able to make a move, and to be able to counter any move the other competitors made. Sure we ran into one another, but you have to be prepared for that (in open water swimming). Then, I made a run for it…”
Micha’s run basically started less than 2 years ago when she was swimming occasionally for a masters program in Huntington Beach and studying to be a nurse after graduation from Cal-Berkeley. Encouraged to take up open water swimming seriously, Micha decided to train under Bill Rose at Mission Viejo. Slowly, but steadily, Micha got into shape and traveled the world, from San Francisco to Dubai, in search of the best open water competition she could find. And her journey is not over. Together with Kirsten and her male colleagues who will be selected tomorrow on the same course, the road to Beijing goes through Seville.
The final results of the race are:
Micha Burden (26), Mission Viejo Nadadores, 2:00:47.48
Kirsten Groome (17), First Colony Swim Team, 2:01:05.43
Chloe Sutton (15), Mission Viejo Nadadores, 2:01:09.02
Kalyn Keller (22), Club Wolverine, 2:01:42.15
Christine Jennings (20), Minnesota Aquatics, 2:03:54.94
Eva Fabian (14), Greenwood Memorial Swim Club, 2:03:56.10
Whitney Sprague (20), North Carolina Aquatic Club, 2:04:23.91
Katelyn Martin (17), Magnus Aquatic Club, 2:05:26.76
Erica Rose (25), unattached, 2:06:30.74
Jessica Witt (20), Nova of Virginia Aquatics, 2:06:46.47
Alicia Mathieu (15), SoNoCo Swim Club, 2:06:47.15
Caitlin Warner (20), Rice Aquatics, 2:07:34.16
Elizabeth Stowe (21), unattached, 2:10:12.60
Kelly Baird (15), Winston-Salem YMCA, 2:12:47.86
Nicole Vernon (14), Delaware Swim Team, 2:13:04.45
Leah Gingrich (17), WSY Swimming, 2:14:24.78
Lisa Hazen (43), unattached, 2:18:17.72
Courtney Weigand (17), North Coast Aquatics, 2:19:11.20
Lauren Bailey (22), Palo Alto Stanford Aquatics, DNF
Brittany Massengale (22), Rice Aquatics, DNF