AWhen the awards ceremony was over, they hugged. They stopped, they held on. It was a very touching scene, full of emotion, full of power. Swimmer Florian Wellbrock, who had recently secured the world championship title over the five kilometers in open water, stood next to Mykhailo Romanchuk from the Ukraine on Monday afternoon, who had finished third in Lupa Lake in Budapest.
The two swimmers – silver went to Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri – are friends, even more than ever in recent months. On Wellbrock’s initiative, Romanchuk, who was born in Rivne in north-western Ukraine, joined Wellbrock’s Magdeburg training group in early March, shortly after the start of the Russian war of aggression. Because the last swimming pool in his home country with a 50-meter pool, in which he could have prepared for the World Cup, was bombed.
Wellbrock has helped the Ukrainian with shopping in the past few months, took him to the hairdresser’s or went out for dinner or for a walk with him. Accordingly, Romantschuk was grateful in Budapest for the support of the Magdeburg group and said: “Without them I would not be here.”
At 26.7 degrees in the very warm Lupa Lake on the outskirts of Budapest, Wellbrock felt comfortable from the start of the race on Monday. “Those are my conditions, I noticed that something was possible,” said the 24-year-old later.
Coach Bernd Berkhahn emphasized that the tactic worked 100 percent. “Mischa should speed up the first few meters, Florian should quickly swim up to him and Gregorio from his unfavorable starting position and then the pressure should be applied. I’ve never seen it in five kilometers that it was an elimination swim,” praised the coach, for whose protégé it was the fourth medal at the World Championships: Wellbrock previously had silver in the pool over 800 meters freestyle and bronze over 1500 meters freestyle won – as well as gold with the 4×1500 meter mixed relay in open water with Lea Boy, Oliver Klemet and Leonie Beck.
On Monday, Wellbrock was not only happy about his personal success, but also about the successes of the other medal winners. Such as the bronze of “Mischa” Romantschuks, his friend from Urkaine, who was frenetically celebrated by his mother, sister and other family members from home.
“To be honest, exactly the people I wanted to stand on the podium with me were there,” said Wellbrock, who only missed his wife Sarah at the lake. “She has to watch our dog,” he said, laughing.
Three medals, including two gold ones, within 38 hours – you can’t get much more than that. “If he had swum the 1,500 meters in the pool so bravely and so relaxed, things could have gone differently there,” said Berkhahn and said that they also worked psychologically with Wellbrock: “If you put him in the right mood before the race brings, a lot is possible.”
There was talk of stressful days because of the many starts. But Wellbrock coped well mentally. “As a coach, you look at the stresses and strains that await you at a World Cup and how the performance requirements are then set. And that is then simulated in training.”
He was “close to a perfect race,” Wellbrock said on Monday after his victory. But about halfway through the race he was leading a five-man breakaway. On the final lap he pulled away with Paltrinieri and won easily. The second German starter, Niklas Frach, swam in 13th place. “I kept my speed at a very high level. That worked,” said Wellbrock: “Now it’s okay to be a bit tired.” On Tuesday he has a day off from competition. Wellbrock wants to defend his world title over the Olympic ten kilometers on Wednesday.
In any case, his trainer Berkhahn and Wellbrock themselves see very good opportunities for this. “As the defending champion and Olympic champion, you should be among the favorites,” said Wellbrock, whose preparation for the World Cup was somewhat disrupted. “I had to have my wisdom teeth pulled and wasn’t allowed to train for ten days. Of course, that’s not ideal before a World Cup,” said the 24-year-old.
There was no sign of a lack of fitness in the open water. Wellbrock can define this discipline for years to come. “Open water swimming is a pure endurance sport. I think we will experience many more championships. Assuming Flo wants that too,” Berkhahn announced a few more Wellbrock medals for the future.