Home » Swimming World Cup 2024: Florian Wellbrock’s liberation – silver after debacles

Swimming World Cup 2024: Florian Wellbrock’s liberation – silver after debacles

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Swimming World Cup 2024: Florian Wellbrock’s liberation – silver after debacles

They were days of forgetting, of frustration and guesswork for top swimmer and Olympic champion Florian Wellbrock. What was going on? Why did he lag behind at the World Cup, and not just a little? Then, on this last day of the title fights in Doha, he managed a silver breakthrough. “That was extremely important for me today,” said Wellbrock shortly after taking second place in the 1500 meter freestyle. “It’s extremely good to be back on the podium.”

The fact that the 26-year-old even qualified for this final on Saturday was a success considering the previous events. Then also as the fastest runner. Hundreds of hundredweights fell from him. In the final on Sunday afternoon, he swam freer and with regained strength, step by step towards the medal. The 26-year-old from Magdeburg took silver behind Daniel Wiffen (Ireland) in 14:44.61 minutes on the route over which he won World Cup gold in 2019 and Olympic bronze in 2021. Breathe a sigh of relief for Wellbrock, coach Bernd Berkhahn and the German team. Wiffen swam an impressive race alone at the front (14:34.07), Frenchman David Aubry came third just 24 tenths behind Wellbrock, Sven Schwarz from Hanover came in sixth.

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With a view to the Olympic Games in Paris this summer, this is an immensely important medal for Wellbrock. Nevertheless: The previous debacle remains, the tasks are big for the coach-athlete team. But silver at the end of the World Cup is much easier to tackle than another disappointment.

Cold and desperate – more training in the cold

The 1500 meter freestyle was the last chance for Germany’s real guarantee of success and model swimmer to leave these World Championships with a somewhat positive feeling. The World Cup began with the completely unexpected disaster over ten kilometers in open water, the route over which he won Olympic gold in 2021 and over which he competed at the World Cup as defending champion. In Doha, after a strong start and subsequent slump, he only ended up in 29th place. “He’s exhausted, can’t explain it and is of course desperate,” said national coach Bernd Berkhahn: “He’s lying behind and is frozen through.”

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Berkhahn was also at a loss. “We actually trained at the low temperature. He didn’t have too many problems there.” The harbor basin was 19.9 degrees, wetsuits are not yet allowed for the top swimmers. Generally good for Wellbrock, who likes it much better. But he wasn’t able to defend his world title over the five kilometers, even though things went much better: ninth place at the end. “The cold water and wavy conditions don’t suit me as well as the others,” he said.

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The good thing: There will be no waves at the Games in France, where the open water competitions will be held in the Seine. However, the water is not expected to be any warmer. To prepare his athletes for this, Berkhahn wants them to train in cool temperatures in the flow channel and prescribe ice baths, among other things. The tasks are clear.

“The last few days have been very modest…”

After the two open water races, Wellbrock was optimistic about the pool, spoke of “attacking” and felt good. However, there was no sign of this in the 800 meter run: he was eliminated. And withdrew. He and Berkhahn did not want to speak publicly in the days before the 1500 meter heat. They were looking for peace and focus. In order to find an at least somewhat conciliatory farewell and to gain the certainty that it is still possible.

Eliminated in the 800 meter heat: Florian Wellbrock is disappointed

Those: dpa/Gian Mattia D’alberto

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Especially since Wellbrock wasn’t just eliminated, but remained 8.5 seconds above his best time and described this as “surprisingly slow”. Now this wasn’t his first surprising preliminary exit from a World Championships over 800 meters, but in 2019 he had previously become world champion over ten kilometers in the same title fights and in 2023 he had won both open water gold medals before he was eliminated over the 800 meters – but then also over the 1500 meters. In 2019, however, he quickly flipped the switch and returned with the 1500 meter title. Wellbrock also showed at the 2021 Olympic Games: After disappointments, he can refocus within a short time and return triumphantly.

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In Doha he laid the foundation for this as the fastest over 1500 meters in 14:48.43 minutes. “It was much nicer than the 800 – less cerebral and more fun. Then the time is better,” said Wellbrock. “The last few days have been very humbling, to put it simply. But I think we have now found a very good way to take an important step. I didn’t even think about the final, I just wanted to do a good run-up. I think that could also have been a problem because I was always in the finals with one half of the brain in the heats.”

Wellbrock’s comeback qualities

In this very moment, when it really mattered, he showed his comeback qualities again on Sunday, this refocusing within a short period of time. And that a lot of things went right in the training preparation – even if he couldn’t stand up to Daniel Wiffen, who had already won the 800 meters. The detailed workup will now follow. It will still be a good five months before the Olympic Games open in Paris.

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In terms of sport, a World Cup without the precious metal would have been manageable for Wellbrock, as the clear highlight – also in training planning – is the Olympic Games. But four starts and four – especially surprising – disappointments, albeit of varying degrees? That would be difficult for a world-class athlete to cope with, the questions would be more complex and the necessary corrections would be greater. However, there remains a lot to do. “The time over 1500 meters wasn’t bad,” says Wellbrock in conclusion. “But there is still a lot to do. I’m looking forward to Paris.”

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