“Don’t you want a competition?”: Wellbrock’s stressful search for the opponent

“Don’t you want a competition?”
Wellbrock’s stressful search for the enemy

Florian Wellbrock is Olympic champion in open water. The swimmer experienced “the most relaxed race of my career” where there is usually literal competition for positions. In the end, the lead is big. So big that the Dominator is only sure of his victory shortly before the goal.

Proud and visibly exhausted, Florian Wellbrock allowed himself to be driven towards the interview zone in the Odaiba Marine Park after his Olympic demonstration of power. The Olympic champion in open water swimming showed the winning fist from an oversized golf cart, and after he got out, he was hugged by his teammates. In the ten-kilometer race, the double world champion impressively dominated the action from the start and swam that night to the first Olympic gold medal for the German Swimming Association in 13 years.

“For me personally, I think this is my summer fairy tale today,” said Wellbrock. In the target area, he first crawled out of the water on all fours and in the great heat had cold water and a wet towel handed to him. Then he proudly flexed his strong biceps – the gesture fit on the day of his bombastic appearance. “I’m thrilled,” said national coach Bernd Berkhahn. The 50-year-old also admitted an hour and a half after the triumph of his exceptional athlete: “That has not really arrived. The past few days and weeks have been too much tension for that. But that is still to come.”

Wellbrock had struck after 1: 48: 33.7 hours with over 25 seconds ahead of the Hungarian Kristof Rasovszky and the Italian Gregorio Paltrinieri. “Florian was on another planet today,” said Paltrinieri, full of respect for Wellbrock’s performance. Wellbrock’s team-mate Rob Muffels, at least third in the World Championship, crossed the finish line in eleventh place.

“Feels incredibly good”

For the German swimmers, it was the third medal in Tokyo after Wellbrock and his fiancée Sarah Köhler in the 1500 meter freestyle pool. The last time the swimmers were more successful was in Beijing in 2008, when Britta Steffen was crowned double Olympic champion and record world champion Thomas Lurz won bronze in the open water. At that time there were a total of five medals for the DSV. For men, the association had to wait for an Olympic swimming victory since the success of “Albatros” Michael Groß 33 years ago. At that time, Uwe Daßler also won gold for the GDR. “I knew: It was the last race. I have already won the medal for the DSV, there is not much to lose,” said Wellbrock. “That’s why I just threw everything in again and was rewarded with gold today with a very commanding race. That feels incredibly good.”

World record holder Paul Biedermann also congratulated the 23-year-old. “He achieved something historic with the first Olympic victory in open water for Germany. Winning a medal in the pool and in open water is a league of its own and speaks for the exceptional talent Florian Wellbrock,” said Biedermann. Lurz won the last Olympic open water medal for Germany to date with silver in London in 2012. “An absolutely gigantic race. Exceptionally strong, exceptionally fast,” he said as a Eurosport expert. The DSV was clearly more successful in Tokyo with three swimmer and two jumper medals than at the games in Rio 2016 and London 2012, when there was only one medal for the entire team.

“Guys, don’t you want to swim a competition?”

Wellbrock set an example right after the start with a water temperature of 29.2 degrees in the early morning hours in Tokyo Bay. He immediately put pressure on in his first Olympic open water race and quickly gained a head start on the field. “I was around the first buoy on the first lap, looked around and thought: guys, don’t you want to swim a competition today?” Said Wellbrock. “I think a lot of people were quite intimidated by the water temperature and I’ve already noticed during training over the past few days that it doesn’t feel so much warmer than a swimming pool.” Berkhahn, who had wanted Wellbrock to have a smooth start, said: “He practically couldn’t swim any slower.” In the meantime, the competitors came up again, but Wellbrock was simply too strong that day.

The Olympic champion even spoke of the “most relaxed race I’ve ever swum” on ZDF, at least about the battles for positions, the slashing and stabbing for the good situation in the race, which otherwise costs extra strength in the open water. “Today”, Wellbrock said with a smile, “there was no one there from the start who wanted to argue with me for first place, that was totally strange.” Nevertheless, despite the large lead, he was only sure in the last few meters that he had really won the race. Because there were final doubts, “whether there is perhaps someone right on my feet that I might not even see.” But there was no one. There was nobody far and wide, almost over the entire distance.

Even before the Olympics, he did not allow himself to be disturbed by the hustle and bustle for himself as the greatest hope for a medal among German swimmers. The native of Bremen, who trains at Berkhahn in Magdeburg, was highly concentrated in the days of Tokyo and also put away an annoying fourth place in his first final. Over 800 meters he was only 35 hundredths of a second short of bronze. He and Köhler, who has already left the Japanese capital and followed the race with Wellbrock’s parents in Bremen, were the guarantors of medals for the German swimmers. On the short distances, some athletes – including former top performers – did not achieve their top form at the great sporting climax.