Balazs breaks into top 20 in open water battle

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BARCELONA – Toronto’s Zsofi Balazs achieved her best-ever FINA World Championships result in a tightly packed women’s 10-kilometre open water marathon in Barcelona Tuesday.

Balazs finished 19th in a time of 1:58:28.5, which was 9.3 seconds off the pace of Brazilian Paliana Okimoto Cintra. It was a 1-2 finish for Brazil, as Ana Marcela Cunha came in 0.3 seconds later.

Angela Alexandra Maurer of Germany was one second behind Okimoto Cintra to round out the top 3.

The largest gap between swimmers from 1 through 19 was just 1.1 seconds. Balazs made up a half-second on the leader on the final lap but dropped four positions in the close pack.

“That was probably one of the hardest 10k’s I’ve done,” said Balazs, who turned 23 earlier this month. “It’s one of the ones that I’m most proud of also. Everyone stayed together the entire time. It was just fight, fight, fight, none of the girls would give up and the pack never spread out.”

She said she looked to teammate Richard Weinberger as inspiration for the race. Weinberger battled back into medal contention in Monday’s men’s 10-km despite losing time to repeat a turn after missing a buoy.

“Seeing Richard yesterday, he just never gave up. I went into the race just saying that if he could do it, then I better not give up,” Balazs said.

Nadine Williams of Sherwood Park, Alta., moved up one spot on the final lap to come 35th in the 53-swimmer field at 2:01:50.4. For both swimmers it was an improvement on their 2011 world championships results in Shanghai, when Balazs was 40th and Williams 44th.

“Both Zsofi and Nadine acquitted themselves exceptionally well in the world championships field. I think for Zsofi to break into the top 20 was a really solid performance. She was in contention all the way through the race and over the next four years she’s going to build on the improvement that she’s made here, ready to step it forwards,” said Swimming Canada High Performance Director John Atkinson.

“The same as Nadine, she broke into the top 40. I think they’ll both take things away from this to put into practice into other competitive swims that they have.”

Balazs, who came 18th out of 25 swimmers at the 2012 Olympics in London, said she was hoping for an even better result.

“I was kind of hoping to be a little further up but it’s still my best placing at worlds so I guess I’ll take it,” she said.

“She wasn’t far off first at all so I think she’s got to be pretty happy with that swim,” added open water coach Ron Jacks.

Next on the open water schedule is the 5-km team event Thursday. Canada will select two men and one woman to compete in the race, with gold going to the first country to get all three of its swimmers across the finish line.

Meanwhile, Canada’s pool team is scheduled to travel to Barcelona Wednesday from its staging camp in Torremolinos, Spain. The pool competition runs from Sunday through Aug. 4.

For further information, visit www.swimming.ca or www.bcn2013.com

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