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Gold for Gianniotis at swimming world championships

Swimmer retains title in 10km open water marathon

Champion says his 'heart was pumping so hard I couldn't keep up with my blood' and that he 'just put my head down and swam hard'

Spyros Gianniotis poses with his gold medal after winning the men's 10km open water swim competition at the Fina Swimming World Championships in Barcelona, 22 July 2013 (Photo: AP) Spyros Gianniotis poses with his gold medal after winning the men's 10km open water swim competition at the Fina Swimming World Championships in Barcelona, 22 July 2013 (Photo: AP) “Unbelievable, but true.” With these words reigning world champion Spyridon (Spyros) Gianniotis described his victory in the 10km open water marathon at the swimming world championships held in Barcelona on Monday.

Gianniotis, who defended the title he had won in the Fina Swimming World Championships in Shanghai two years ago, noted that the race had come on a good day for him.

“It was a crazy race, especially in the last 2.5km before the finishing line. I used both mind and soul, realising what I had lost in last year's Olympics. I dedicate my success to my coach [Nikos Gemelos], who is always next to me, my parents and of course to all the Greek people. What I wanted to do last year, I was finally able to do a year later,” the 33-year-old champion said, soon after his victory.

In the race, Olympic champion Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia got stuck trading elbows and kicks with a French challenger.

Five-time world champion Thomas Lurz of Germany had to waste precious energy fighting off herds of competitors just to get around the buoys lining the course.

Valerio Cleri of Italy liked the event to "wrestling," and also had to deal with a jellyfish sting.

But for Gianniotis, the combative nature of the gruelling 10km open water marathon at the swimming world championships Monday was just the way he liked it.

So it was no wonder when Gianniotis retained his title in the discipline's signature event, surging ahead on the final lap to avoid a sprint with Mellouli.

"You're going to get hit, you're going to get pushed. It's rough," Gianniotis said. "It's really hard, and hard is what I like."

Gianniotis clocked 1 hour, 49 minutes, 11.8 seconds in the waters of Barcelona's harbour. Lurz finished second, 2.7 seconds behind. Mellouli was third, 7.4 back.

The event was a far different open water competition from the more placid conditions of last year's race at the London Olympics, which was held in the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

Gianniotis finished fourth in London.

"The Olympics were a spectacular event, but it was in a lake and it didn't feel like real open water," he said.

While the race began at noon under a searing sun with an air temperature of near 30C, water conditions were ideal at 25C.

The problems were created by the large field of 65 swimmers.

Lurz was the first to struggle, losing time early on due to the physical jockeying.

"It was very bad. And it's always the guys not finishing in the first positions," he said. "I want to swim and not fight. It just costs power. But that's open water."

In the final kilometre, Mellouli had to fend off some underwater kicks and jabs from Damien Cattin-Vidal of France, who finished fourth.

"Every time I tried to move he got super physical, so I couldn't move," Mellouli said.

Cleri, who won the 25K at the 2009 worlds in Rome, also complained.

"It was almost like wrestling at the buoys," he said. "And I got stung by a jellyfish. The harbour is tight and there's not much room to swim. When we're that close to each other technical superiority gives way to fighting."

Mellouli won Saturday's 5K race with an impressive sprint finish, and he was at or near the lead for much of this race. But Gianniotis took the initiative on the final lap to gain a clear lead of two body-lengths ahead of his chasers.

"I'm quite good on sprinting but not like Oussama. I knew that if it goes to the end, even if he's more tired than me he's got more speed than me, so I tried to stay in front," Gianniotis said.

Having skipped the 5K, Gianniotis appeared fresher than his rivals. Still, there was pain.

"I pushed a bit in the last 300 meters to make a bit of a (gap) in case (Mellouli) came really hard," Gianniotis said. "The last 50 meters I've never felt so bad in my life. I was nearly fainting ... My hands were (shaking).

"My heart was pumping so hard I couldn't keep up with my blood," Gianniotis added. "I just put my head down and swam hard."

In the end, though, it was a measure of redemption after missing the podium so narrowly in London.

"It's not the same," he said. "But I came here with only 3 1/2 months training and I won. After the Olympics I was feeling very bad psychologically, but this is sport and I said to myself I wanted to come back."

It was his fifth medal in the last four swimming championship events, a catch that puts him ahead of Germany's Thomas Lurz and Tunisia's Oussama Mellouli.

“By winning the gold medal, Spyros Gianniotis proved once again that he is the world champion in his sport,” the sports minister, Yiannis Andrianos, said, commenting on his victory.

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