Duel within the Pool begins with Bondi seaside battle as swimmers enter unknown | Kieran Pender


“Iconic” was the phrase of the day. As Australian and American swim stars gathered at Bondi Icebergs to watch the opening occasion of the three-day Duel within the Pool – an open water relay – adjectives flowed freely. It was an “iconic” occasion, mentioned one swimming govt, on the “iconic” Bondi seaside. “No extra applicable location than Bondi,” provided the state tourism minister, Ben Franklin. “Iconic.”

Surf life savers arrange for the opening Duel in Pool race – within the open water off Bondi seaside. {Photograph}: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

Sport is vulnerable to hyperbole, however this was in all probability honest sufficient. Australia v the US, the 2 heavyweight swimming nations, head-to-head. Not on the Sydney Olympic Park Aquatic Centre (that comes this weekend), however at Bondi seaside – the religious residence of Australia’s aquatic tradition, the nation’s very personal swimming mecca. Not a duel within the pool however a battle from one finish of Bondi seaside to the opposite and again, after which out and again once more – “4 by virtually 800 metres,” one occasion organiser quipped, noting the difficulties of establishing a precise “course” in the course of the ocean.

Pool swimming is a sport outlined by millimetres and milliseconds. It’s a sport of certainty and finely-tuned preparations. Because the solar rose over Bondi on Friday morning, there was none of that. The American and Australian groups conferred on particulars whereas perched on the seaside steps, and last-minute questions have been met by shrugs. It was obvious that each nations have been getting into the unknown.

Surfers wait on the ocean on what looks like a normal sleepy morning at Bondi.
Surfers wait on the ocean on what seems like a standard sleepy morning at Bondi. {Photograph}: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

“It’s fairly cool to be racing right here at Bondi,” mentioned Australia’s Kareena Lee, an open water bronze medallist on the Tokyo Olympics, as she limbered up on the sand. “A bit bit totally different to what we’re used to!”

Australia’s 4 swimmers– Lee, Chelsea Gubecka, Kyle Lee and Kai Edwards – are all specialised open water swimmers, albeit extra accustomed to racing 10 or 20 kilometres, not a mere 800m. The Individuals went for a special method, throwing their pool swimmers into the ocean. The Australians have been acclimatised to the circumstances – Edwards lives close by and had been coaching at Bondi – whereas the Individuals have been better-suited to the space. “I believe will probably be a good enjoying area,” mentioned Kareena.

“Bondi is such an iconic spot,” added Kyle (the primary of a double-digit depend for the “i” phrase throughout the morning). The quartet joked about sharks and mind-games with the Individuals; happily, no nice whites can be sighted. The waves rolled in, with 50 or so surfers unfold throughout the seaside, though the relay course was simply past the breakers. “We’d have liked some extra chop,” Kyle mentioned. The larger the waves, the extra pool specialists would wrestle.

Australian open water swimmers Kareena Lee and Chelsea Gubecka get ready to hit the water.
Australian open water swimmers Kareena Lee and Chelsea Gubecka get able to hit the water. {Photograph}: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

At Icebergs, swimmers from each nations rubbed shoulders with fits from the state authorities and its tourism company, which is underwriting the occasion. Cody Simpson, the swimmer turned pop star turned swimmer once more, snapped selfies with Australian swim legend Grant Hackett and younger followers in flip. “That is an superior technique to begin it off with the open water relay,” mentioned Simpson. “That is in all probability one of the iconic pool places in Australia, if not the world.”

Hackett, serving as crew captain for Australia this weekend, eyed the waves with a touch of want. “I’d have liked this,” mentioned the now-retired three-time Olympic gold medallist. “Not many individuals know this, however I really grew up extra surf swimming than pool swimming. I needed to be an iron man.”

The Australia team, from left to right: Kareena Lee, Kai Edwards, Chelsea Gubecka and Kyle Lee.
The Australia crew, from left to proper: Kareena Lee, Kai Edwards, Chelsea Gubecka and Kyle Lee. {Photograph}: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

Perched on the look-out above the picturesque ocean pool, Individuals appeared enviously on the locals swimming laps beneath. A couple of got here as much as say good day, clad in dripping togs and not sure what all of the fuss was about.

“Australia has by no means overwhelmed the US on the Duel,” mentioned Swimming Australia boss Eugenie Buckley. The rivalry was an everyday function of swimming calendar within the 2000s, when Hackett and co confronted off in opposition to the American superstars, however there was no Duel within the Pool on residence soil since 2007. After a decade within the (relative) doldrums, the Australian nationwide swim crew – the Dolphins – are again, ending neck and neck with the US within the pool in Tokyo. This weekend, the Australians may declare their first head-to-head scalp.

Team USA cheer on their teammates as they race across the bay.
Crew USA cheer on their teammates as they race throughout the bay. {Photograph}: Dean Lewins/AAP
Australia’s Chelsea Gubecka and Charlie Clark of the US prepare for their leg of the relay.
Australia’s Chelsea Gubecka and Charlie Clark of the US put together for his or her leg of the relay. {Photograph}: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

But when the 2 nations’ swimmers have been taking this weekend’s meet critically, it didn’t present on Friday morning. After a busy worldwide calendar, most lately the world championships in Budapest after which, for Australia, the Commonwealth Video games in Birmingham, “enjoyable” appeared to affix “iconic” because the phrases of the day.

“That is the enjoyable a part of swimming,” mentioned American Annie Lazor, a short-course breaststroke world champion and Tokyo bronze medallist. “That is arguably the 2 greatest swimming international locations on this planet going head-to-head, nevertheless it’s such a pleasant alternative to have – regardless that it’s a rivalry – a way more light-hearted competitors.” The weekend’s motion within the pool features a vary of atypical occasions: “damaged” relays, “random” order medleys and, for the first-time in a world swim meet, an “built-in” relay that includes each able-bodied and para-swimmers.

Simpson chatted together with his girlfriend, Australian swimming stalwart Emma McKeon, because the cameras lingered on the pair. One onlooker provided: “I simply got here to see Cody Simpson.” Fellow Dolphins regulars Kaylee McKeown and Mack Horton watched on, whereas the American crew – mini-flags in hand, voices able to cheer – took up the very best spots on the look-out.

Kyle Lee takes on the final leg duties in the 4x800m relay.
Kyle Lee takes on ultimate leg duties within the 4x800m relay. {Photograph}: Matt King/Getty Pictures

Pool swimming occasions are usually managed to the minute, however no-one appeared too perturbed because the designated 9am start-time slipped by. “Have they began but?” somebody requested at 5 minutes previous, because the gathering appeared enviously at one spectator to have remembered binoculars. Lastly at 9.10am the race started, one swimmer from every nation main off from a makeshift pontoon on the southern finish of Bondi. “Iconic” was dropped once more – maybe this time paradoxically.

Somebody took the lead, though – from such a distance, with no readily-identifying options – it was laborious to know which nation had gained the early benefit. “Australia is at all times in entrance,” provided one member of the Dolphins. Thankfully one other onlooker had a cellphone quantity for an official considered stationed the pontoon: “Are you on the pontoon? Are we in entrance?”

Bella Sims, one of the US team also featuring Charlie Clark, David Johnston and Tylor Mathieu.
Bella Sims, one of many US crew additionally that includes Charlie Clark, David Johnston and Tylor Mathieu. {Photograph}: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

It transpired that the Australians weren’t in entrance. The US had made a tactical gamble – opening the race with two male swimmers, and concluding with two girls. The Australians had gone for the reverse: girl, girl, man, man. The Individuals constructed a gentle lead, however must maintain off the fast-finishing Australians. At one level the hole between the nations virtually resulted in a mid-water collision; a contemporary American swimmer hurtling in direction of a ending Australian, just for the pair to narrowly glide by one another.

From the Icebergs look-out, Lazor surveyed the view. “It’s superb,” she mentioned. Lazor recalled how she and teammates had accompanied the open water relay crew on a reconnaissance mission earlier within the week. “And we thought we’d leap on this iconic pool. I imply – it’s a bucket-list merchandise, proper?” Requested if extra laps may comply with after the race, Lazor demurred. “It was a little bit too chilly for me the opposite day, and it’s a little bit chilly this morning.”

The open water race went down to the wire.
The open water race went all the way down to the wire. {Photograph}: Jessica Hromas/The Guardian

As Australia’s anchor swimmer, Kyle Lee, started his 800m leg, he confronted a 17-second deficit. However he steadily ate it up. As Sydneysiders went about their day – surfers having fun with the morning waves, Icebergs regulars doing their laps, private trainers working with purchasers within the background – the inaugural Australian Dolphins v Crew USA swimming relay at Bondi seaside went all the way down to the wire.

“Let’s go Australia go the Aussies,” cheered the small crowd, as Lee surged residence to narrowly win the relay. Half an hour later, having dried off and warmed up, and joined the rest of the crew tucking into a selection of pastries at Icebergs, the rising star of open water swimming summed up the occasion. “It was good to do one thing totally different, at such an iconic place,” he mentioned.

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