The agony, relief, belief, satisfaction, and reward told on the faces of Australian marathon swimmers Nic Sloman and Kyle Lee after their 10km battle royal to book their places for this year’s Paris Olympics in Doha overnight.
Sloman (1hr:48:29.60) fifth and Lee (1hr:48:31.20) ninth fought all the way to finish to lock in their Olympic qualification places – and seal a full complement for the Australian open water team – joining Chelsea Gubecka (Fukuoka silver 2023 Worlds) and Moesha Johnson’s fourth place finish in Doha the day before.
Australia has never fielded two swimmers in an Olympic marathon since it made its debut in Beijing in 2008 – capitalising on the change in the Olympic criteria with Swimming Australia amending its selection criteria respectively so that the athlete that achieves the Federation spot is also awarded representative rights – finishing in the top 13.
For Noosa’s 26-year-old Sloman, the five-time Australian 10km champion, there have been four years of blood, sweat and tears after missing the team for Tokyo.
WA’s Lee, at 21 from the North Shore club has emerged as the rising star of open water swimming as Australia as he embarks on an exciting international career.
Sloman’s swim was a personal triumph and a triumph for his partnership with long-time coach John “JR” Rodgers who has planned, plotted and persevered, believing that Nic would reach his holy grail.
The coach who steered Kareena Lee to Australia’s first ever Olympic medal – bronze in Tokyo in 2021 – with Lee now coaching the next gen alongside Rodgers in the Noosa program.
Eighty-five-year-old Rodgers wasn’t on the pontoon at Port Doha after spending three weeks in a Sunshine Coast Hospital recently, fighting an infection, released a week before yesterday’s swim – and who sat glued to the broadcast overage.
But for “JR” he was there in spirit and with one of his lifelong lieutenants, two-time Olympian and experienced coach Graeme Brewer, on the Australian team staff – he knew the team was in safe hands.
A rare Olympic coaching feat for master coach Rodgers who placed Brewer, Ron McKeon (1980/1984) and Max Metzker (1976/1980) onto those Olympic teams and now Sloman onn the 2024 team some 40 years later.
“JR” swimming every stroke of the hustle and bustle of the 10km war on water with 60 swimmers battling for those top 13 spots and a ticket to Paris.
Sloman and Lee, under dedicated and astute Perth’s North Shore, WA coach Ian Mills, knew they had to be in the mix from the opening lap of the helter-skelter six lap course, with everything in the line.
The race really tightened up on the last lap of the race where Sloman made his move and Lee stuck to him like a leech with five different lines formed as multiple swimmers thought they had a chance to win as they approached the final turning buoy.
It was early leader Hungarian Kristof Rasovszky (1hr:48:21.20) who produced a powerful burst inside the last 400m to kick clear of the chase group to take the title ahead of France’s Marc-Antoine Oliver (1:48:23.6) and Britain’s Hector Pardow (1:48:29.2)
Then came the wash….Sloman and Lee putting their heads down with a line of six swimmers pounded their way to the touch pad in a flurry of arms and legs clambering over each other in desperate lunges to the finish.
“I know what it’s like to miss out after Tokyo so there was no way I was going to let this chance pass,” said an exhausted Sloman.
“It hurt, particularly when the pace picked up in that final lap, but I knew I had to stay in touch with leaders.”
Lee, showing experience and a cool head beyond his 21 years, executing his race plan to perfection, holding his position in the lead group by owning the space in front of him to work his way through the field.
“I just can’t believe it, I stuck to our plan and I guess it worked,” an understated Lee said as he came to terms with his achievement of Olympic proportions.
Team Leader and Swimming Australia’s High Performance Director Greg Shaw knows that to secure all four Olympic positions, for the first time, highlighted Australia’s growing impact on international waters, saying: “Nic and Kyle today showed how open water is a race of opportunities and the power of decision making, this is a really tight group and shared intelligence of this group just keeps growing.”