Open Water Championship a Hit
N.C. Open Water Championships
The Sandhills Sandsharks hosted the N.C. Open Water Championships on June 3-4 in Seven Lakes. More than 700 swimmers took part in the event. Photos by Philip Taylor.
The 2011 North Carolina Open Water Championships took place last weekend in Seven Lakes.
The two-day event, hosted by the Sandhills Sandsharks, kicked off Friday with the 400-yard Splash and Dash. Saturday’s spectators then witnessed a full slate of swimming at Lake Echo.
In the water, 700-plus swimmers — hailing from all over the country — competed in five events.
Creating a true festive feel, more than 2,000 spectators stretched across nearly one end of the dam to the other. From under the shade of tents or while sitting on lounge chairs upon the grassy bank, the sizable crowd watched — race by race — with zeal and enthusiasm.
Included in the five-race lineup was the 5K, described by championship meet director Taylor Cooper as the “premiere event” of the day.
Daniel O’Connor claimed first-place in the boys’ 5K. A rising sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill, he finished with a winning time of 55:51.78.
“It was really fun out there,” said O’Connor, who is from Syracuse, N.Y. “I love coming down here and it was a really nice day to race. At first I was a bit worried about the water temperature, because it has been like a bathtub in Durham, but today the water was perfect.”
In an effort to make the event more fan friendly, Cooper and his crew reconfigured the the N.C. Open Water Championships triangular course this year.
While it still used a long straightaway leg going straight from the shore and dam line, this year the swimmers made the turn — on the side of the lake closest to the damn — taking a path that runs parallel to the “Spectator Lane.” As a result, people had multiple opportunities to view the swimmers in action, especially during the longer races involving multiple laps around the course.
After his victory, O’Connor gave the course at Lake Echo his seal of approval.
“It was nice having three different buoys to go around,” he said, “because it made the transitions easier because you could focus more on one at a time. It really made for an enjoyable race.”
Kiera Molloy turned in a stellar time of 1:00:51.97 to claim the top spot in the girls’ 5K.
A rising senior at Wakefield High School in Raleigh, it was her third time competing in the 5K and fifth year overall at the N.C. Open Water Championships.
“Last year I finished second (in the 5K) and the year before that I was fourth,” said Molloy, “so I guess I am improving every year.
“This win is a very big deal for me. I look forward to coming to this event every year — my friends and I come out here and it’s just a really fun event — so it is cool if you can win it.”
Along with the overwhelming favorable reaction to the new course setup, Cooper was also pleased by this year’s turnout. He admitted the N.C. Open Water Championships are slowly starting to garner some of the local support he feels it warrants.
“We had about 100 more swimmers this year,” said Cooper. “Usually we have been averaging about 50 more per year, so this year it doubled, which is great.
“I am happy to say that the support we have received from local businesses and vendors is starting to get better. Last year was good and it improved some again this year. So, it seems the entire (Moore County) community is beginning to take notice.”
While Cooper admitted the N.C. Open Water Championships is still a developmental meet, he also acknowledged its recent growth in scope, size and prominence over the course of the past few years.
“Right now I would say we are probably in the top-five among the biggest open water championships in the nation,” Cooper said. “However, those truly large, top-tier ones have been around much longer than us.
“One of the things we have to do is continue to get the word out. That way more swimming fans and potential swimming fans will get a clearer idea of about what the whole open water experience entails and what makes it unique — so it is really all about exposure.”
The event started in 1998 with 40 participants. Since its inception, the N.C. Open Water Championships have drawn some of the best open water swimmers in the world. Champions have included Chip Peterson, a 2008 member of the U.S. Olympic open water team, and Olympic bronze medalist and former American 1,500-meter freestyle record holder Chris Thompson.
Along with the 5K, other open competitor races contested Saturday were the 3K, 2K and 800-meter. Making its N.C. Open Water Championships debut this year was a one-mile swim.
Back for a second year was the Poseidon Award, which went to all swimmers who consecutively completed the 5K, 3K and 2K.
A total of 12 swimmers accomplished the feat Saturday, including Sandhills Sandsharks Kevin Duffy and Julia Lattarulo, each of whom also won the honor last year.
A complete list of the 2011 N.C. Open Water Champion-ships can be found at www. sandshark.org/OpenWater/index.asp.
Contact F.W. Manning II at email@example.com.
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