Oussama Mellouli (TUN) will not only defend his 1500m freestyle crown in London this summer but will take on the 10km marathon after gatecrashing the open water party off the Portuguese coast today for a 1hr 45min 18.5 victory in the FINA Olympic qualifier.
Always on the shoulder of the leaders for the first of four circuits at Setubal, Mellouli, the California-based African who denied Grant Hackett (AUS) a third 1500m Olympic crown in Beijing by a hand, took the lead on the 5th lap and swept to victory 11.7sec ahead of Canadian Richard Weinberger, with Bulgarian Petar Stoychev a further 15.6sec adrift.
Among those who did not make the cut for London 2012 were Hungarian Gergely Gyurta, 26th and 1min 35.4sec off the winning pace, and Olympic silver medallist from 2008, David Davies, 38th and almost 5mins off Mellouli's pace. His teammate, Daniel Fogg, 35th and over 4mins off the winning pace, will race in The Serpentine, Britain entitled to one place in the race at a home Games.
An oddity of the sport: Haley Anderson's winning time for the US yesterday was 1:44.18, a minute swifter than Mellouli's winning time. Indeed, 18 women raced faster on Saturday than Mellouli did today. Tides, currents? Rare to see women apparently swimming 10km a minute faster than men but if conditions have played a big part in that, then qualification for the millpond environment of The Serpentine sets open water as a sport apart, one in which selection to a Games is held under very different circumstances to those in which the actual Olympic event will be held.
Davies, Olympic bronze medallist over 1500m in 2004 and silver in the marathon in 2008, noted the difference, saying: "I knew that was going to be hard. I’m not really a fan of swimming in the sea and at times it felt like the whole sea was against me but I did my best. I kept seeing Dan in front of me but he got away. If he gets the spot in London, I’ll be there cheering him on. I’ve still got the pool swim at my third Olympics and that will be my focus now.”
There are other quirks in the Olympic marathon selection process: each marathon race, for men and women, in London will sport 25 athletes, 10 selected from the top 10 finishers at world titles in Shanghai in 2011; nine from the best eligible finishers in Setubal, 1 from the hosts, Britain, and five others per gender from the Setubal races under the one-per-continent right-to-race rule.
The last of those through today finished 31st: an Olympic selection system that is overly complicated and needs some work, many folk surely turned off by the time they've read a few words of procedure explained.