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The start of something extraordinary

Baker swamped in final lap sprint at Olympic marathon swim qualifier

New Zealand swimmer Cara Baker has finished just two seconds off an automatic spot for the London Olympics in the FINA marathon open water swim qualifier in Portugal today.

Baker, well placed in the chase pack for the first five laps of the 10km race, ended up 17th at the wrong end of a photo finish with four other swimmers. She finished only four spots from the last automatic qualifying place.

In the strong tides of Sado River, her pack played a more tactical battle on the last lap, but it allowed the next group to catch and the kiwi was swamped by some aggressive opponents in the sprint home.

The leading nine swimmers, with a maximum of one per country, automatically qualify for London, with Japan’s Yumi Kida 13th overall to earn the final qualifying position at the head of the photo-finish group that included Baker.

The New Zealander’s plight was not helped when she reached up for the touch pad with her wrong hand to be pipped by two others in the photo finish.

“It’s hugely disappointing for Cara,” said Philip Rush, Swimming New Zealand’s Open Water Manager. “She swam so strongly for five laps. It is very tidal here and her group just buttoned off the pace on that last lap.

“The group behind used the tide well and took their chance to catch the chase pack. From there they just out-sprinted her although the tactics were rough in the final 150m.

“She is very upset. Her group had things well under control going into the last lap.”

The Queensland-based swimmer was fourth after the opening lap and remained in the tight group of nine swimmers who opened an eight second buffer on the chase pack.

Hungary’s Eva Risztov and Americans Ashley Twichell and Haley Anderson opened a 10 metre lead with one lap remaining leaving Baker still well placed in seventh. However the pack then dropped their pace allowing the next group of nine to catch and to turn the dash to the line into a sprint.

Anderson prevailed in 1:44.30 just ahead of Risztov but the chasing group of experienced swimmers stepped up the tempo to forced their way through small group with Baker among others the big losers.

Webby (AquaBladz, Taranaki) was positioned in the main pack for the opening two of six laps but dropped off the pace on the fourth lap, eventually finishing 29th to be five minutes behind the winner.

The men’s race is tomorrow with Kane Radford (Rotorua) and Jonathan Pullon (Waterhole, Auckland) chasing qualifying places.

Results: Hayley Anderson (USA) 1:44.30.6, 1; Eva Risztov (HUN) 1:44.32.0, 2; Anna Olasz (HUN) 1:44.38.8, 3. Also: Cara Baker (NZL) 1:45.06.1, 17; Charlotte Webby (NZL) 1:49.42.2, 29.