Emblem of the 4th Asian Para Games Hangzhou 2022

Sardinia to make history with Open Water World Cup

2023/09/23 15:46

The paradisiacal island of Sardinia in Italy, one of the most famous touristic destinations in the world, welcomes special visitors this weekend.

Thirty-six Para swimmers representing 13 countries and regions will jump in the water at the San Teodoro for the title of the first-ever World Para Swimming Open Water Cup in four multi-class races—the men's and women's 1.5km Open Water and 3km Middle-distance.

Although this is the inaugural World Cup, open water races have already been part of the World Para Swimming calendar in the past. The last competition took place over a decade ago with Sardinia marking a first step to increase participation in the discipline.

"We have had a really positive entry for this event which is a great start. It's also great to be working with an experienced LOC (Local Organising Committee) in Sardinia who have delivered a number of international open water events over the years and are providing a good environment for the swimmers to experience open water swimming," Craig Nicholson, Head of World Para Swimming, said.

The Open Water World Cup will host some of the stars of the swimming pools such as Manchester 2023 world champion Zsofia Konkoly of Hungary. Switzerland's Nora Meister is a Paralympic medallist from Tokyo 2020 who picked two medals in this year's World Championships.

From pool to sea

The young stars will be joined by 16-time-Paralympic medallist and five-time Paralympic champion Javier Torres from Spain. The 49-year-old first picked his first gold at the Barcelona 1992 Games and has been practiced for years in the ocean at his hometown Palma de Mallorca.

For 21-year-old Konkoly the World Cup in Sardinia will be the first experience in open water events, just over a month she took a World Championships gold and two silvers in the swimming pool.

"After the Worlds, I had a little break and haven't been training. I started two weeks ago and tried a couple times to swim the same distance, but I think it is easier in the pool," said the Hungarian. "This is going to be a new experience for me and hopefully I can prove myself that I am capable of doing something different than pool swimming. It's going to be harder for sure, I am a little bit nervous because of the open water, but I have to fight with my fear."

Sardinia 2023 is a key turn not only for Konkoly. Switzerland's Nora Meister has also been in Manchester last month where she bagged two bronze medals, one of them in the 400m freestyle. The distance now is almost four times longer and "a little bit scary" for the 20-year-old who is dealing with it in the best mood, with humour.

"I hope the turning points are easy to find. I also hope not to taste too much of the salty water, and I would like to avoid meeting any jellyfishes. I am definitely not used to the waves and the salty water which I expect to be the biggest challenge. And important to mention as well is that I think it's going to be a lot of fun," Meister said.

The event is yet to happen but Spain's Inigo Llopis, gold medallist at Manchester 2023, is already eager for it to become a regular stop in the Para swimming calendar.

"I normally compete and train in the pool, so doing it in the sea is quite a challenge. I will give my best to be able to make the best possible mark in this new experience. It's the first open water event in Para Swimming and we are looking forward to trying new experiences. I hope it is a success and more events like this will be held in the future," Llopis said.

More than a month after grabbing a gold and two silver medals at the Para Swimming World Championships in Manchester, Hungary's Zsofia Konkoly, Paralympic champion, is one of these debutants and she faces it as a self-challenge.

Next steps

Regarding World Para Swimming plans for open water meets, Craig Nicholson added:

"The next steps are to learn from this event and then look to develop it for next year. We do not see this as a one-off event, we would like to see this event grow, become a regular event in the calendar with more Para swimmers participating year on year.

"As this starts to happen, we can consider where further opportunities may be and to the level this can be grown to, which may include championships in the future. However, for now we need to build the base of swimmers, learn from each event and then take the next steps to maintain momentum, and this will involve taking a long-term approach."

The Sardinia 2023 Open Water Cup starts at 9:00 a.m. (Central European Time) on Saturday (September 29).

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