SEVILLE, Spain – Karley Stutzel of Victoria expects one of the roughest races in her career this Saturday in the women’s 10-kilometre event at the 5th FINA World Open Water Championships which runs until next Thursday on the calm Guadalquivir river.
The 10 kilometre races for the men and women are Olympic qualifying events as open water makes it Games debut this August in Beijing.
“It’s going to be really rough because there is so much on the line,” said Stutzel, 26, fourth in the event at the 2001 world aquatic championships. “You have to be mentally prepared for the fact that you are going to get beat up a little bit and have a few bruises, bumps and scrapes when it’s all over.”
In open water races there are judges who hand out yellow and red cards for illegal infractions however the really rough stuff tends to takes place underwater.
Stutzel who is coming off a difficult 2007 season both physically and emotionally says she’s in the best shape of her career.
“I would love to make the Olympic team,” she said. “I’ve been training and swimming really well this year. It’s a definite possibility and I know I can do it.”
Joining Stutzel in the women’s race is 17-year-old Zsofia Balazs of Toronto. They’ll race both the 10 kilometre and five kilometre events. Patricia Perreault of Quebec City is Canada’s entry in the gruelling 25 kilometre race that concludes the competition.
In Sunday’s men’s 10 kilometre, Canada has two strong entries with Philippe Dubreuil of Sherbrooke, Que., and Jarrod Ballem of Calgary.
“It’s going to be a very physical race,” said Dubreuil. “It’s always more aggressive at a worlds and with Olympic spots on the line the tension should be even higher. The key is to make sure you hold your position. In the last year I’ve learned a lot about that part of the race.”
Ballem and Dubreuil race the five and 10 kilometre events and Simon Tobin of Ste-Foy, Que., is entered for the 25 kilometre.
In the 10 kilometre event, the top-10 this weekend earn a nomination to their Olympic Games team. As well, the top finisher from each of the five continents (America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania) not from a nation in the top-10 also gains a nomination.
There will be a second to chance to qualify at the end of May at an Olympic test event in Beijing.
The international field in the men’s event include Grant Hackett of Australia. He is already vying for a third consecutive 1,500 metre freestyle Olympic title in the pool and will attempt to add the open water race to his Games schedule. Perennial open water champion Thomas Lurz of Germany is the favourite.
“Grant is an unknown factor in this race and he’ll be watched closely,” said Dubreuil. “I think he’ll play in important role in how the race unfolds.”
On the women’s side, multiple world champion Larisa Ilchenko of Russia, former world and European medal winner Rita Kovacs of Hungarry and Jana Pechanova of the Czech Republic top the field. Cassandra Patten of Britain, already qualified for the Games in the pool, tries to gain an open water spot as well.
The women’s 10 kilometre opens the competition on Saturday with the men’s race on Sunday. The men’s and women’s five kilometre races are on Tuesday May 6 and the 25 kilometre races are Thursday May 8.