Unlike Van Rouwendaal, who won by a handsome margin, Weertman only managed to secure victory after a thrilling sprint for the finishing board involving seven swimmers. The 24-year-old European champion, who won silver at last year’s world championships, got the touch fractionally ahead of Greece’s Spiros Gianniotis, the former double world champion. The pair were so close, however, that they were given the same finishing time of 1:52:59.8.
“Gianniotis got in front and I knew he was going to win a medal, so I thought I have to get next to him, it’s the last 200 metres,” said Weertman, who added that his intensive training had paid off: “We have been practising a lot just to get the finishing touches, pun intended, and I had a perfect finish. That’s what made the difference here today.”
It was the last race for the 36-year-old Gianniotis, who bows out from the sport after five Olympics as a pool and open water competitor. “I think it’s the best way to retire,” said the Greek. “I said to myself after Barcelona 2013: ‘If I qualify for the Olympics and swim the Olympics, that will be my last race’. So a dream come true today.”
There was an equally tight call for the bronze medal, with France’s Marc-Antoine Olivier just beating China’s Zu Lijun to the touch, with both men also being given the same time, less than two seconds behind the gold and silver medallists. “It’s incredible, because we got prepared the whole season,” commented a delighted Olivier after making the podium. “It was a wonderful result for us.
Race favourite and world champion Jordan Wilimovsky of the USA came home fifth, a further 1.2 seconds behind, with just five seconds covering the first 11 swimmers home. Though right in contention on the final lap, defending Olympic champion Oussama Mellouli of Tunisia could only finish 12th. The race will also be remembered for a heroic swim by Australia’s Jarrod Poort, who made a noble solo bid for gold, leading for an hour and 39 minutes until he was overhauled on the final lap.