Belgrade 2024: Double joy for Italy after five gruelling hours

Published On: June 14, 2024

Credit to:  European Aquatics

Dario Verani and Barbara Pozzobon claimed an Italian double with victory in the men’s and women’s 25km respectively. Both swimmers were declared runner-up two years ago in Ostia when the event was halted due to the high winds and rough waves. On Friday they completed the full distance in calm waters and emerged the winners in Belgrade.

Gorgeous sunshine and calm water awaited the bravest swimmers, eight men and six women, who lined up to take part the longest competition across all aquatic disciplines.

The 25km event – now contested solely at the European Aquatic Championships – is a huge challenge as swimmers usually do 12-15km maximum at training sessions and never practice the full distance.

It requires extreme mental toughness to spend more than five hours in the water as they complete the 15 laps.

Credit to: European Aquatics

Kudos to the heroes of the day in the men’s race as 11 of the 14 warriors hit the finish panel after making the 25,000th metre of the race.

Defending champion Mario Sanzullo withdrew after 8km due to the effect of health issues he had experienced in recent days.

Czechia’s Matej Kozubek fell behind early on, but he completed the race, despite swimming alone for almost the entire duration.

The remaining six stuck together well over the 20km mark.

Approaching the last lap, the two young Germans faded, first Yael Balz then Moritz Bockes, but the leading four staged the ultimate showdown.

At the end, Verani had the most fuel remaining in the tank and sprinted to victory in 5:08:50.9.

Next home was fellow Italian Matteo Furlan, who was 5.7sec adrift in 5:08:56.6 followed by French two-time World champion Axel Reymond who touched the panel in 5:09:00.5.

Credit to: Istvan Derencsenyi, European Aquatics

“This is amazing to win this race” Verani said. “I’m really happy to swim all 25km and got the gold at the end.

“For me, the circumstances were perfect. I love this weather and the warm water, so this course really suited me.

“I wanted to use this chance and it is great that I could do I wanted to do during the race and that secured me the first place.”

It was a fifth and final European medal for Furlan as he drew his racing career to a close after reaching World and continental podiums.

 “You know, I cannot be happier as I’m finishing my career with a European medal,” he said.

“This was my last race, I’m on the podium, I cannot wish for anymore.

 It’s a special feeling too because in last December, after the World Cup in Madeira I stopped and thought I was done with swimming.

“Then after two months, my girlfriend Ginevra (Taddeucci) asked me to come back as she needed a training partner.

“So, I returned to the pool and at first, I just trained for fun. Soon it became a bit more serious and now I’m here, I won a medal and that’s great. There is no secret, I’ve been just training with the best people and coaches, this made this possible.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

Reymond was also content with the bronze although he’s won three European titles in 2014, 2016 and 2021, as well as his World golds.

“Every 25km is different,” he said. “Even if I swam perhaps more than anyone in the field, it’s always challenging.

“I came here to see if I’m still there and since I could go together with the Italians, it’s a good feeling. Their finish was faster but I got a medal and it means a lot for me.”

Credit to: European Aquatics

The men set off five minutes before the women who are often lapped and swimming with the men for long laps took its toll.

Two women were brought to the shore and soon after hitting the 20km mark Vivien Balogh of Hungary couldn’t hold the pace and had to settle for the fourth position.

Germany’s Lea Boy and Spain’s Candela Sanchez couldn’t keep up with Pozzobon’s speed with the Italian the sole woman managing to stay with the men.

That secured her a full minute advantage with two laps to go and she came home with ease to add 25km gold to her 10km silver in 5:25:37.7.

Boy was second, over three minutes adrift in 5:28:39.6 while Sanchez took bronze in 5:29:15.2.

“I’m very happy that I finally got the gold medal,” Pozzobon said. “It was a very hard race as we swam with the men for quite a long time. However, that was my tactics, to go with them as long as I could and it worked.”

Boy, champion in 2021 in Budapest, also fended off Sanchez’s challenge, gaining 30sec on her rival over the last lap to land the silver medal.

The Spanish athlete put her country on the medal table once more after Roma 2022, where they returned to the podium after a 10-year wait, while Vivien Balogh had another fourth-place finish for Hungary.

Credit to: European Aquatics

Boy was overjoyed with the medal, partially for avoiding physical contact with the giant fishes in Ada Ciganlija.

“The first four laps were really slow then we met the boys and from that point the race got a lot tougher,” she said.

“I tried to hold on as long as I could, then the last two laps were extremely difficult.

“Honestly, over the last lap huge black fishes came so close that I was really frightened as by then I swam alone.

“Thank God, they were very peaceful but first it was worrying to see them coming…”

The bronze meant a lot to Sanchez.

“I am very happy to get this medal. It was an extremely difficult race, at points I did not think I could be on the podium. I’m happy that I could make it at the end.”

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