From Friday to Sunday, there is non-stop action and activities in the Descenso, the field of the 5km Asturias Cup skewed younger and faster than its larger counterpart on Sunday.
By 10:30 pm on a festive Friday evening, the town square of Navia filled up with anticipation of dances, music, entertainment and speeches. The town’s population came out dressed elegantly to not only enjoy the entertainment, but also to witness the presentation of the Queen and her royal court.
Maria Garcia Lopez, the Queen, and her court (Marta Sanchez Gonzales and Lucia Carrera Perez) were selected from the swimmers and volunteers who have participated in previous Descenso events. For 2012, three high school teenagers – mature beyond their years, bright, attractive, personable ambassadors of Navia – reigned over the weekend in a number of roles.
As can be expected in Spain, the entertainment continued as the clock stretched past midnight. The ambiance of the northern Spanish town in Asturias kicked into an even higher gear as the town followed the Queen and her court to the local casino. Volunteers, swimmers, parents and spectators joined the Reina (Queen) and her court (Damas) as they kicked up their heels to both traditional and contemporary music pulsating the casino halls.
Athletes from Argentina, Japan, Hungary, Great Britain, Australia, U.S.A., Venezuela, Portugal and Germany intermingled with swimmers from throughout Spain. Talks ranged from swimming to spirits, festivals to food, training to tactics. But the festivities were not over as the swimmer’s party kicked off a bit past midnight with two bands singing the night away.
After a long night, the Descenso kicked off with a parade of swimmers on Sunday morning. The athletes filed behind one another, each team arranged by their club affiliation or by their countries. Under bright blue skies over 500 swimmers outfitted in their team uniforms walked through the coastal village escorted by bagpipers and children dressed in traditional wear.
The swimmers were the stars of the parade as the narrow streets were lined with well-wishers clapping and taking photographs. Local residents cheered on from the streets as well as the second, third and fourth stories of apartments and buildings, making the swimmers the center of the Asturias universe.
The parade ended in the town’s main church, a beautiful century-old structure with an overflow, standing room-only crowd. Each of the teams was introduced as a representative from 9 countries and dozens of swimming and triathlon teams greeted the crowd. The ceremonies ended with the local choir singing traditional hymns as the athletes left the church ready to tackle the 18 degree C.
After the parade, a lunch of pasta, meat, potatoes, yogurt, wine, pastries and soft drinks was prepared for the athletes. The entire community of 6,000 residents poured into the streets to greet and encourage the athletes. The attention showered on the athletes in Navia was similar to the Olympic heroes in London.
As the athletes headed back to their homes and hotels, clouds entered the picture as the skies turned to gray from its previous bright blue. But a second parade with floats, dancing tropes, and traditional bagpipe bands buoyed the spirits of the crowds and swimmers. The Queen and her royal court, surrounded by dozens of cute children in traditional dress threw sweets and paper decorations to the people lining the streets.
Then it was off to the staging area where 521 athletes were numbered and sent off to four different start areas along the meandering river: 1.1km, 1.7km, 3km and 5km.
The races begin along the shoreline where the athletes dive in and take their preferred course down the river. Timed to take advantage of the tidal flow in the estuary, the athletes swim faster than normal. Each race is started at different times so the finish becomes a constant flow of finishers in front of thousands of individuals lining the bridges and river banks.
At the start, a slight drizzle temporarily put a damper on the swimmers until a glorious rainbow stretched across the horizon. As if the organizers had not done enough for the swimmers, they swam down a river framed by rolling green hills on both sides under the majesty of a rainbow.
The swimmers took off on their own desired courses, but they only used one half of the river as the other side of the river was reserved for safety boats and media and spectators on dozens of boats. The athletes were protected by a line of kayakers who diligently maintained a barrier between the power boats and swimmers.
“The water was a bit cold,” remarked Christian Reichert who won easily the 5km course in 49:47.0 as he maintained a strong 82-84 stroke per minute pace. “But we went faster than yesterday’s [Asturias Cup] race, so it was fine.”
On the women’s side Anna Olasz drafted off the side of Spain’s Junior Open Water Swimming Team member Laia Tena Quintilla for the majority of the women’s 3km race until she moved alongside near the last bridge. “We definitely went faster than yesterday. But when I saw the last bridge [before entering the harbor], I picked up the speed.“
The weekend ended on Sunday night with another traditional festival and street party. Winners of a special contest were also announced. Swimmers, fans and spectators were given a survey that listed the top 10 seeded male and female swimmers in each event. People were asked to predict the winners of both the Asturias Cup and the Descenso. If all four winners were predicted, the individuals were given special prizes of shirts and gear.
Remarkably, the cost of participation in the Descenso is zero in a tradition started long ago. Athletes make a deposit of 10 euro for their chip transponders, but the money is returned immediately after the race after they return the wrist transponders. If they are not registered with the Spanish Swimming Federation, a fee of 8 euro is required for insurance purposes.
There is simply no better value in the open water swimming world for Nothing is like Navia.
Men’s 5km Race Results
1. Christian Reichert – 49:47.0
2. Adrian Gonzalez Dianez – 50:49.2
3. Juan Tolosa Olazabal – 50:49.7
4. Marc Ciurana Roca – 50:51.2
5. Hugo Alberto Ribeiro – 51:01.1
6. Javier Fernandez Ordonez – 51:44.8
7. Miguel Bautista Borras – 52:10.9
8. Francisco Jose Garcia Diaz – 52:33.4
9. Josue Martinez Real – 53:07.7
10. Raul Lizano Martin – 53:37.4
Women’s 3km Race Results
1. Anna Olasz – 34:19.0
2. Laia Tena Quintilla – 34:23.3
3. Laura Pimentel Perez – 34:35.0
4. Irati Mendia Garcia – 35:19.7
5. Xenia Vilarino Garcia – 35:32.7
6. Angela Chaves Mastellanes – 35:40.8
7. Paula Alonso Lorenzo – 38:10.4
8. Elena Gonzalez Perez – 38:39.1
9. Raquel Perez Perez – 39:35.2
10. Ana Carolina Gomes – 40:17.1
Copyright © 2012 by World Open Water Swimming Association