Haley Anderson’s victory in the 5-kilometer open water race at the world championships on Saturday certainly erased the bitter disappointment of missing selection for her favored event.
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A silver medalist in last year’s 10K Olympic race, Anderson finished only eighth in that event at U.S. trials in May on the same day of her graduation from the University of Southern California. Her only chance to qualify came down to winning the 5K days later, which she did.
And that led to an even bigger title in Barcelona, where she collected the first gold medal on offer at the worlds.
"I didn’t walk at graduation and I didn’t do well in the 10K so it was a pretty tough day," Anderson said. "But I knew if wanted to make the worlds team I had to win the 5K. There really was no other option. I had to put that race out of mind and just win the 5K. I went for it in that 5K to make the team and I’ve been focused on this 5K ever since then."
Anderson edged Poliana Okimoto of Brazil in a sprint finish in the Barcelona’s harbor. She finished in 56 minutes, 34.2 seconds, 0.02 ahead of Okimoto.
Another Brazilian, Ana Marcela Cunha, finished in front of a group sprint for third, 10.5 seconds behind.
Anderson led the first half of the race, which was held on a 2.5K L-shaped loop, then Okimoto led most of the second half before she was overhauled by the American.
"Not every race goes well. You have to learn from your mistakes," Anderson said. "So I knew coming in here what I needed to do and that was to be in front from the beginning.
"The last stretch I wanted to keep drafting but pull up to the side of her," Anderson added. "I was kind of just waiting for the perfect moment to sprint ahead because you don’t really know how much you have in you."
Anderson did a better job of timing her last stroke to reach up and slap the finish touchpad.
"I reached forward and that’s what you want to do, you don’t want to slap it when you’re passing through," she said.
Anderson trains under Catherine Vogt at USC, and Vogt is the U.S. open water head coach for these championships.
"She wanted to be out front and be smooth and strong and have some good closing speed and she did exactly what we talked about," Vogt said. "She felt like she wanted to take advantage of her event here."
Anderson was on the U.S. team a couple of times with Fran Crippen, who died during a sweltering 10-kilometer race in the United Arab Emirates in October 2010.
"Fran taught us to be great competitors," Anderson said. "We all learned from Fran and take his memory with us to all open water competitions and live like he lived."
The race took place in ideal conditions, with the water 24 degrees Celsius (75 Fahrenheit) and the air temperature between 28 and 29 Celsius (82 and 84 Fahrenheit).
Crowds lined the docks as the competitors swam alongside a line of moored boats and the port.
Two swimmers, Finnia Wunram of Germany and Chan Fiona On Yi of Hing Kong, were disqualified for failing to swim around the buoys lining the course.
The only Olympic event in open water is the 10K and several top swimmers are entered only in that race, such as Olympic champion Eva Risztov of Hungary and two-time 10K world champion Keri-Anne Payne of Britain.
Still, Anderson took a positive approach to her only race here.
"5K is half the distance and double the fun," she said.
Okimoto and Cunha were each expecting more success in the 10K, so their medals came as somewhat of a surprise. They showed the strength of the Brazilian team heading into the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
"We’re starting to prepare," said Cunha, who had her hair dyed green and yellow in the colors of the Brazilian flag. "This is the year we start thinking about 2016."