Hungarian Eva Risztov wins Olympic open water gold

By Paul Newberry

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Aug. 9 2012 10:03 a.m. MDT

Gold medalist Eva Risztov of Hungary competes in the women's 10-kilometer marathon swimming competition at Hyde Park at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2012, in London.

Mike Groll, Associated Press

LONDON — Eva Risztov retired from swimming after the 2004 Olympics, upset with her results and tired of the pool.

Good thing she changed her mind.

On Thursday, the Hungarian became an Olympic champion.

Risztov led most of the way in a grueling open water marathon at Hyde Park, holding off a desperate bid to chase her down by American Haley Anderson. The big crowd was hoping for a gold medal from world champion Keri-anne Payne, but the British swimmer finished fourth.

Risztov reached up with her right hand to touch the timing pad, beating Anderson by four-tenths of a second after nearly two hours of racing around The Serpentine. The winner climbed out of the water, smiling and looking fresh as can be.

She even flexed for the big crowd at Hyde Park.

That was a far cry from Risztov's attitude after the Athens Games, where she failed to win a medal in any of her three events. Most galling was a fourth-place showing in the 400-meter individual medley, leading her to retire for three years.

"I lived an ordinary life," she said.

Then Risztov decided to give open water a try.

"I chose this option because I missed out on an Olympic medal," she said through an interpreter. "I thought I was capable of winning a medal."

A gold, at that. The winning time was 1 hour, 57 minutes, 38.2 seconds.

Anderson was right on Risztov's left shoulder coming to the line but couldn't overtake her. The American stuck up her left hand to nick the pad just behind the winner, also slapping it with her right hand just to make sure she had the silver.

"Of course, I'm disappointed that I missed out on gold," said Anderson, whose sister, Alyssa, won a relay gold in the London pool. "But I gave it everything I had. I'm happy with the result."

Martina Grimaldi of Italy disappointed the crowd, which lined the lake in one of London's iconic royal parks, claiming bronze in the 10-kilometer race ahead of Payne, the Briton.

Grimaldi finished in 1:57:41.8, while Payne's lunge for the pad wasn't quite fast enough. She missed the podium by four-tenths of a second, failing to give Britain not only its first swimming gold of the London Games but any medal at all. She was the silver medalist in Beijing.

Angela Maurer of Germany, the other swimmer in the lead pack, faded over the final meters to fifth.

Payne said she was caught off guard by the fast pace and made a mistake when she stopped at the feeding station on the third lap. In open water, swimmers tuck gel packs into their suits and are handed drinks on long sticks as they go by the feeding areas, usually flipping over on their backs like otters to take a few sips before flipping the bottles away.

"I wasn't expecting quite so many people to go quite so early," Payne told reporters, wiping away tears. "Open water swimming is all about who makes the right decision at the right time. Unfortunately, I made a couple of wrong decisions."

She also was caught up in rough swimming, which threw off her rhythm.

"I'm not really a fighter. I'm more of a lover," Payne said. "I got hit quite a few times in the face. We were all swimming in such close proximity. It seemed like a pretty violent race from the start."

The home country has just one chance left for a swimming gold, the men's open water marathon Friday.

After being disqualified from an event at last year's world championships for reasons she still doesn't understand, Risztov was leaving nothing to chance this time.

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