Throughout sports history, great athletes have created great athletic moves.
From track-and-field (The Fosbury Flop) and gymnastics (Thomas Flare and the Omelianchik) to boxing (the Rope-a-dope) and wrestling (Karelin Lift), sports fans have associated certain great moves with great athletes.
Even sports announcers have been associated with memorable verbal descriptions of sports events (e.g., the Miracle on Ice, he could…go…all…the…way! and back-back-back-back)
Ilchenko’s trademark move was classic to watch and extremely difficult to compete against. She expertly drafted off of the lead swimmers for a majority of the race, aggressively protecting her #2 or #3 position in the pack, which is difficult to consistently do throughout a 2-hour 10 km race. Then, around the last turn buoy, she attacked with her signature move. With the finish approaching, sometimes with less than 100 meters to go, Ilchenko picked up her kick and literally swam around her competition, often on the opposite side to which her opponents breathed, to win the race.
Much easily said than done, Ilchenko put in tremendous hours and work to be able to pull off The Ilchenko.
She once told former world champion Shelley Taylor-Smith that she has not taken a day off during the Olympic year of 2008. “I only had 7 days out of the water in 2007. I am looking forward to some time off I hope.”
Her dominance had long stymied her competition since she first won the 5 km world championships in 2004 in Dubai. Year in and year out, at every major race, everyone knew Ilchenko’s blazing finish would come…but they just could’t seem to do anything about it. Fast pace, slow pace, ocean, lake, Larisa comes through at the end with The Ilchenko.
At the Singapore leg of the FINA 10K Marathon Swimming World Cup, Taylor-Smith asked Ilchenko’s competitors how they plan to dethrone her.
Fourth-place Olympic 10K Marathon Swim finisher Angela Maurer of Germany described her Russian competitor, “The difference between Larisa and the rest of us is not that she is faster, but that she swims smarter than the rest of the competitors.”
Brazilian open water swimming coach Igor de Souza once said after a race, “…We will now go back and prepare…on becoming a smart racer. We must learn to race. Speed is important, yes. But thinking like a 10 km marathon swimmer is what wins. I believe that is what it is going to take to beat Larisa.”
Always easier said than done.
Copyright © 2014 by World Open Water Swimming Association