Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California. Photos courtesy of Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia.

The big day at the 2015 FINA World Swimming Championships for the female open water swimmers is next Tuesday when the first qualifying swim for the 2016 Rio Olympics 10K Marathon Swim is held.

But the first day and first event in Kazan, Russia still had lots of excitement and ambience befitting of a world championships.

With a few notable exceptions, the top women had a chance to test out the race course. It was a typical race as the women started fast, ended fast with a lot of jockeying and the inevitable lead changes at the very end of the race.

Defending champion Haley Anderson from Northern California positioned herself precisely where she wanted from start to finish. She sprinted to victory to win the first gold medal awarded at the 16th FINA World Championships. Anderson was always in striking position throughout the near-hour race, lurking around the lead pack, expertly drafting off her competition.

Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands led after the first lap as she tried to replicate a podium position from her Dutch predecessor Edith van Dijk who won two silver and one bronze medal in 1998, 2002 and 2005. But van Rouwendaal could not maintain that pole position as the pace picked up towards the end of the race. With 300 meters to go, Anderson was in her sweet spot. A 500-yard specialist in college at USC, she put on an impressive 300-meter sprint to the finish.

Anderson described the race, “The conditions were great today. I am really happy with my finish. It was a great course and really nice for open water swimmers. Everyone races in the same conditions and I don’t let anything affect my confidence on the day of the race.

It was a bit choppy today, but for me the water temperature was perfect, I was comfortable during the entire race. My strategy was to stay towards the front of the race where I would be able to make a push at the end. I knew that Eva [Risztov] was in the race and I wondered where she might be at the finish. But I also knew that I needed to kick hard and give it everything I had at the finish I really just wanted to get on this course as a tune up for the 10 km.”

If Anderson swims on Tuesday like she did today, she and her family can start booking her tickets to Rio. She looked prepared, flashing her trademark smile both before and after the race. “I am confident that I am prepared for the 10 km race next week. This victory means a lot. I take this process of qualification for the 2016 Olympics only one step at a time. Today’s race is a stepping stone to the 10 km where I hope to qualify for Rio.

Kalliopi Araouzou was second, capturing the first medal for Greece. Finnia Wunram sprinted to third and continued the representation of Germany in the 5 km. This was the sixth medal finish for Germany in the 5 km. Wunram said, “I am really very happy, because it’s my first medal at a FINA World Championships. I raced in 2014, but I was disqualified for swimming on the wrong side of the buoy. So for my second race, a bronze medal is unbelievable. I won’t be racing in the 10 km, but I will race in the 25 km. I think I prefer the shorter open water events, but I am looking forward to racing again.”

But today was Anderson’s day as she won her second gold and ninth overall 5 km medal for the USA. Russia and the U.S. have each won 9 medals in the history of this event with multiple medals only won by Russia’s Larissa Ilchenko (5), Italy’s Viola Valli (3), and Anderson. Russia still leads the medals table in this event with five gold medals and four silver medals. USA now has four gold medals while Italy has three.

Like Anderson said, lots of athletes used this competitive race as a warm-up for the big-time 10 km on Tuesday. Canada’s Samantha Harding said about the 2.5 km loop course in the Kazanka River. “It was good to know where all the buoys are going into the 10 km. I’m not super happy with how that [race] ,went but I’m glad that I got to swim the course for real before the 10 km.”

Her teammate Jade Dusablon, who received a small cut under her left eye after being kicked in the pack, explained how competitive the world-class women can be. “It was really aggressive and I think it will be a good experience for the 10 km. I think a top-15 finish in the 10 km would be good, and staying with the lead pack for the whole 10 kilometers will be my goal.”

The Canadian coach Mark Perry took the long view of their performance. “We’re impressed by the way Sam actually won her pack. She wasn’t in the lead pack, she was in the next pack but she actually raced until the end and led the pack. They’re the kind of skills we were working on at the training camp.

I think it’s important that people realize that these girls are inexperienced at this level. The experience at the Pan American Games and then the learning that they did at the camp in Sabadell (in Spain) has been really important for them. For them I think finishing in the top half of the field is a really good result. We’re really impressed with the way they’ve improved their skills – this is the beginning of their journey not the end.”

Historical Notes:
* Besides Anderson, Australia’s Melissa Gorman was the only previous world champion (2009) in the event today. The 30-year-old Australian finished seventh.
* 2012 Olympic 10K Marathon champion Eva Risztov was in the lead pack during the early stages of today’s race, but finished 12th place 27.7 seconds behind her American rival.
* Kalliopi Araouzou won the second medal for Greece in women’s open water after Marianna Lymperta took bronze in the 10 km race in 2011.

Women’s 5 km Result:
1. Haley Andersen (USA) 58:48.4
2. Kalliopi Araouzou (GRE) 58:49.8
3. Finnia Wunram (GER) 58:51.0
4. Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED) 58:55.5
5. Jessica Walker (AUS) 59:09.9
6. Ashley Twichell (USA) 59:10.0
7. Melissa Gorman (AUS) 59:12.7
8. Anastasiia Krapivina (RUS) 59:12.7
9. Arianna Bridi (ITA) 59:12.9
10. Erika Villaecija (ESP) 59:15.0
11. Martina Grimaldi (ITA) 59:15.0
12. Eva Risztov (HUN) 59:16.1
13. Anna Olasz (HUN) 59:16.5
14. Anastasiia Azarova (RUS) 59:19.8
15. Betina Lorscheitter (BRA) 59:57.8
16. Speia Perse (SLO) 59:59.7
17. Carolina Queiroz (BRA) 1:00:07.2
18. Alena Benesova (CZE) 1:00:50.3
19. Sam Harding (CAN) 1:00:50.3
20. Yanqiao Fang (CHN) 1:00:51.7
21. Heidi Gan (MAS) 1:00:52.1
22. Jade Dusablon (CAN) 1:00:52.7
23. Alice Dearing (GBR) 1:00:53.3
24. Maria Vilas (ESP) 1:00:53.6
25. Nataly Caldas Calle (ECU) 1:01:10.2
26. Xiaoxiao Niu (CHN) 1:03:50.4
27. Carmen Le Roux (RSA) 1:04:06.3
28. Mayte Cano (MEX) 1:04:25.7
29. Melissa Villasenor Reyes (MEX) 1:04:40.3
30. Ellen Olsson (SWE) 1:04:47.1
31. Fatima Flores (ESA) 1:04:49.4
32. Clarice Le Roux (RSA) 1:05:50.8
33. Cindy Toscano (GUA) 1:06:19.2
34. Hoi Man Lok (HKG) 1:09:10.0
35. Cho Yiu Kwok (HKG) 1:09:18.7
36. Angelica Astorga (CRC) 1:09:19.7
37. Mariya Ivanova (KAZ) 1:09:22.8
38. Alondra Castillo (BOL) 1:10:27.4
DNS Karla Šitić (CRO)
DNS Raina Saumi Grahana Ramdhani (INA)
DNS Julia Lucila Arino (ARG)

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