Jack Burnell says his FINA/HOSA 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup triumph in Abu Dhabi proves that he made the right decision not to turn his back on the sport following his heartbreaking Olympic disqualification.
Seven months ago at the Rio Games, the 23-year-old was given third and then fifth place at the finish line of the 10km race before being disqualified after receiving a second yellow card following a tussle with a rival swimmer.
The incident left him furious with the Briton describing the refereeing as “a joke” and was seriously considering his future in the sport.
But having decided not to quit after taking three months to reflect, he showed his potential by finishing the course in 1:45:54.6 in a frantic finish at the Emirates Palace Saturday.
“It was no consolation, it was just a new start,” said Burnell, of whether the victory would be a consolation for the Olympic disqualification in Brazil.
“I nearly left the sport because of the outrageous decisions that were made in Rio. But I just thought to myself that I have to prove to myself that I am the best in the world and the only thing I can do that is by winning as many races as I possibly can.
“The Olympic disqualification did motivate me of course. At first it made me think that I did not want to be part of the sport at all. I questioned the sport and the organisation of it. But I thought that would mean making them win and that is not what I wanted to happen. I wanted to come back as a stronger athlete.”
— Jack Rex Burnell (@jackburnell) March 11, 2017
In a strong 72-man field, it was an intriguing race that saw the lead change on numerous occasions.
Burnell’s compatriot Tobias Robinson was leading the duel in the first lap, before being overtaken by Hungary’s bronze European 5km medallist Daniel Szeckelyi in the second lap.
Burnell was still in the mix for a medal, in third place behind Marc-Antoine Olivier and two-time European champion Axel Reymond on lap three.
Although Olivier overtook his compatriot for the final two laps, Burnell found enough stamina to hold off his rivals for his first victory of the competition.
His win meant that Rio Olympic gold medallist Ferry Weertman of Netherlands had to settle for silver after finishing 0.3 seconds adrift with Frenchman David Aubry in third.
Understandably, Burnell was thrilled with his gold but with still five more races in the competition as well as the World Championships in July, he’s eager to answer his critics.
“Now I’m back and I’m going to be back with a bang,” he said, who finished fifth in the 2015 World Championships. “There are still more races to go and I want to prove that I was the best in Rio. Results didn’t go my way but I’m not going to allow that to happen again.”
For Weertman, the result was a vast improvement where he finished eighth last year in the UAE capital. The 24-year-old was back in the waters for the first time since Rio Olympics and the Dutchman was pleased with his first competitive appearance of the season.
“I’m really happy about the result because it shows that I’m this good early on in the season.”
Dr. Mariam Saleh Binladen – a Saudi dentist and humanitarian – added to her tally of world records, as she crossed the Dubai Creek and the Dubai Water Canal swimming a total distance of 24km, on Friday.
The special event was held in collaboration with Dubai Sports Council, Dubai Maritime City Authority, Dubai Roads and Transport Authority, Dubai Police and Marine Rescue.
This event was part of Dr. Mariam’s continued pledge to support Syrian orphan refugees, was attended by a delegation from the Dubai Sports Council and other supporting partners, in addition to marine safety, rescue and coordination teams.
Dr. Mariam set off at 05:00hrs, starting from the canal’s Dubai Creek entrance in the Al Shindagha area of Dubai’s historic district.
She achieved the feat at 14:10hrs, finishing at Al Ghubaiba Station next to the Four Season’s Hotel, swimming for a total nine hours and 10 minutes, battling strong currents at the entrance and mouth of the canal and navigating through a number of challenges along the way, passing through some of Dubai most striking touristic sites.
“I want to extend my warmest appreciation and gratitude to HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and President of the Dubai Sports Council (DSC) for his gracious patronage of the event,” said Dr. Marian.
“And to the team members who worked really hard over the past month to make this great event a memorable success. I would also like to thank all the people who turned up just to cheer and encourage me throughout the day.”
“I am thrilled and delighted to become the first person to complete a 24km swim along the wonderful yet challenging Dubai Water Canal.
“It was a very challenging experience indeed, given that my preparation time was extremely short – barely one month of preparations to make this event happen.
“So I am really happy to have completed the swim successfully, which would not have happened without the amazing support of my family, my crew, my trainer Fiona, the team from DSC, and all the other parties involved in this event.”
In support of her cause, Dr. Mariam is inviting people to donate through her website: www.mariambinladen.com.
The FINA/HOSA 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup returns for the second leg in Abu Dhabi on Saturday and Olympic champions Ferry Weertman and Sharon van Rouwendaal will be among the big names to feature.
Weertman and Van Rouwendaal reigned supreme for Netherlands in Rio de Janeiro in what was their last competitive major race. Now seven months later, the Dutch pair will be aiming for a repeat at the Emirates Palace.
It will certainly not be easy for both swimmers. Rachele Bruni, winner of the Abu Dhabi race in 2015 and Rio silver medalist, are among the women’s entries in the 54-person field, which also includes Poliana Okimoto Cintra and Ana Marcela Cunha of Brazil, who finished second and third in 2016.
In the men’s 72-man field, Weertman will be aiming to go better than his eighth-placed finish lsat year and the 24-year-old is relishing the chance to get back in a competitive race after taking eight weeks off.
“Now it is back to the real work and this is the first 10km after Rio so it will be exciting,” he said.
After deciding against quitting after his disqualification in Rio, where he got two yellow cards, Jack Burnell will also feature after taking some time off.
The race begins at 15:00 at Emirates Palace and is part of the Abu Dhabi Swimming Festival where more than 700 amateurs are expected to compete across different categories.
— مجلس أبوظبي الرياضي (@AbuDhabiSC) March 9, 2017
ONES TO WATCH
Ferry Weertman (NED), 24-years-old
Has just been swimming in open water since seven years ago but is already making significant progress. Was crowned 10km open water European champion in 2014, before later adding the 2014 world silver to his medal collection. His greatest feat came last year when he outtouched two-time world champion Spyridon Gianniotis for Rio gold.
Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED), 23-years-old
Competed in the pool at the London 2012 Olympics although she missed out on a medal. Prior to the Rio Games, she won gold in the 5km open water before pulling off her best ever achievement in Brazil by holding off Rachele Bruni in the women’s 10km marathon.
Poliana Okimoto (BRA) 33-years-old
At 33, Okimoto is one of the most experienced swimmers in the Abu Dhabi field. Finished sixth in the 10km FINA World Championship in Kazan before becoming the first Brazilian to win a Olympic medal when she took Rio bronze in 10km.
Rachele Bruni (ITA) 26-years-old
Was the first Italian to win this competition in 2015 before retaining her title 12 months later. Certainly knows the conditions in the capital having won the Abu Dhabi race in 2015 and the Rio silver-medalist will be a force in the women’s race.
Jack Burnell (GBR) 23-years-old
The Englishman took time off following heartbreaking disqualification in Rio and while it will be his first competitive appearance, he certainly has the ability to cause problems for the rest of the men’s field, having won silver in last year’s European Open Water Swimming Championships.