SETUBAL, Portugal (ISN) – Zsofia Balazs of Toronto produced an extraordinary final lap and finished sixth in the 10 kilometre FINA Olympic Marathon Swimming Qualifier on Saturday. With the result, she earns her first career Olympic team nomination.
Balazs is also the first Canadian to gain a spot in an Olympic marathon swimming race. Canada had no entries in 2008 when marathon swimming made its Olympic debut in Beijing.
‘’Right now, I don’t think it’s hit me yet that I’m actually going to the Olympic Games,’’ said Balazs, 21. ‘’It’s something that I’ve wanted for so long. The biggest challenge for me this week was actually believing in myself that I could actually do it.’’
The race was held in frigid waters on Setubal Bay and Balazs was exhausted as she approached the sixth and final lap. She was 13th after five laps after clocking first, fourth, fifth and fourth in the first four laps respectively.
‘’I didn’t really know where I was,’’ said the two-time world championship team member. ‘’I did a really good last turn though and realized there wasn’t that many swimmers ahead of me.’’
Haley Anderson of the U.S., won the gold medal in one hour and 44 minutes and 30.6 seconds. Eva Risztov of Hungary took second in 1:44:32.0 and her compatriot Anna Olasz was third in 1:44:36.8.
Balazs finished in 1:44:38.8. The top-nine swimmers, a limit of one per nation, earned their ticket to London.
Nadine Williams of Edmonton was 11th in 1:44:48.8. ‘’This was a breakthrough race for me,’’ said Williams, 18, who was ahead of Balazs entering the final lap. ‘’My goal was a top-15 and to come here and show I can race with the best in the world is a big confidence boost.’’
Pierre Lafontaine, Swimming Canada’s CEO and National Coach, was thrilled with the performance.
‘’Led by coach Ron Jacks we’ve been working hard on the open water swimming program,’’ said Lafontaine. The first four laps today were very tight and both our girls raced very smart.’’
The men’s 10-kilometre marathon swimming event is on Sunday. Canada has two entries: Richard Weinberger of Victoria and Xavier Desharnais of Sherbooke, Que.