Ous Mellouli claims open-water 10K

Updated: August 10, 2012, 11:27 AM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- Pool or lake, it makes no difference to Ous Mellouli.

As long as there's water involved.

The Tunisian won the grueling 10-kilometer race at the London Games on Friday to become the first swimmer to win medals in both the pool and open water at the same Olympics.

Having earned bronze in the 1,500-meter freestyle last week, Mellouli pulled away from a small group of leaders in the fifth of six laps and won in 1 hour, 49 minutes, 55.1 seconds in the murky waters of the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

It was the second gold of Mellouli's Olympic career. He won the 1,500 at the 2008 Beijing Games.

"Nothing compares to this," Mellouli said. "There's no way I can top this achievement."

Mellouli overcame shoulder and elbow injuries before the games, as well as a virus two days ago. Now, he's considering retirement.

"Only those close to me know how much I struggled to get here today," Mellouli said. "I don't think there's a better way to go out than this. I can just leave it all behind and have no regrets."

After pulling himself up on to the makeshift finishing dock, Mellouli flexed his muscles, beat his chest and let out a few screams -- then yelled again after getting the gold medal hung around his neck -- marking Tunisia's first victory of the London Games.

Tunisia has been in a state of unrest since the fall of autocratic leader Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011 began the Arab Spring.

"I hope every Tunisian watching on TV today could share in my pride and joy," Mellouli said. "We definitely needed that."

Beijing bronze medalist Thomas Lurz of Germany took silver this time, 3.4 seconds behind, and first-time Olympian Richard Weinberger of Canada was third, 5.2 seconds back.

Alex Meyer of the United States finished 10th. Meyer was good friends with teammate Fran Crippen, who died in an open water race two years ago.

The 25-man field completed six laps of a 1-mile course in near-perfect conditions as fans lined both banks of the rectangular lake under bright sunshine.

The only previous swimmer to win medals in both the pool and open water at the Olympics was David Davies of Britain. He took bronze in the 1,500 free at the 2004 Athens Games and silver in the inaugural 10K Olympic race in Beijing four years ago.

Mellouli, who trains at the University of Southern California, is relatively new to open water swimming, but he also won the Olympic qualifier in Setubal, Portugal, in June.

Marathon races are usually contested in oceans or seas, where athletes have to deal with waves and currents -- and more wildlife -- making this race relatively tame, and allowing Mellouli to use his pool expertise.

"The conditions were definitely to my advantage," Mellouli said. "It wasn't really rough and it wasn't too cold. I come from the Mediterranean, so that was a big worry for me. This was the easiest of the three open water races I've competed in."

Mellouli stayed with the leaders for the first few laps then opened up a small lead on the fifth lap.

"I attacked in the fifth lap because I wanted clear water," Mellouli said. "I didn't want to have to fight my way around the buoys and I didn't want to get roughed up."

With Mellouli in front, it left three swimmers fighting for the other medals, although world champion Spyridon Gianniotis of Greece dropped back in the final stages and finished fourth, 10.2 seconds behind.

Gianniotis had been among the favorites and was hoping to give Greece its first gold of the games after winning three World Cup races this year.

Lurz has won the 5K race seven times at worlds but has struggled to dominate the 10K event. Still, his experience helped in the sprint for second.

"I realized in the last lap I had to go for silver," Lurz said.

He compared Mellouli to Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte for his versatility.

"Thomas is just a nice guy," Mellouli said. "That's too kind of him."

The crowd favorite was Benjamin Schulte, a 16-year-old from Guam, who finished far behind all the other competitors. Fans stuck around and applauded loudly when Schulte finally finished nearly 14 minutes after Mellouli.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press