TWO YOUNG swimmers tackle the Lorne swimming classic for the first time and upset the favourites. CHRIS De KRETSER reports:
Two Brisbane teenagers have given Australia’s future distance swimming stocks a boost by upsetting a crack field including Olympic and world champions in the 2018 Pier to Pub swim classic at Lorne. Hayden Cotter, 16, and Lani Pallister, 15, won the men’s and women’s Superfish section of the 1.2km annual classic, which is billed as the world’s biggest and best open-water swim. Both were swimming for the first time in the event and had earlier taken out the junior races of the ocean classic which again attracted more than 5,000 entrants.
Cotter, who once held the fastest time in the pool over 800m for a 12-year-old, showed he is equally proficient in the surf.
He defeated reigning Australian Olympic 400m champion Mack Horton and Italy’s 1500m gold medallist in Rio, Gregorio Paltrinieri.
Pallister, the daughter of former Australian swimming champion Janelle Elford, trounced ironwoman Harriet Brown, who was chasing a record seventh Pier to Pub title.
Pallister has set her sights on representing Australia at this year’s Commonwealth Games in the same distance events where her mother won national titles.
The 27 men and 13 women competing in the main race faced tough conditions with a strong headwind and outgoing tide.
But Cotter won the event in 10 minutes 54 seconds, four seconds ahead of Horton, a more than creditable time.
He swam his own race while Horton and his Italian training partner Paltrinieri teamed tactically to stymie defending champion Sam Shepard’s bid for an eighth title.
The two Olympic champions took a wide line in trying to burn off Shepard while Cotter took the inside running and was first to surface for the beach run home.
Horton, who had been beaten by Shepard in two previous attempts, admitted after the race that they had not taken Cotter’s chances into contention.
“I was keeping my eye on Greg (Paltrinieri),” Horton said.
Shepard, the Jan Juc surf gun, was left to lament the barely existent swell, and finished a distant sixth.
Racing jointly, the women’s race suffered from the stronger field of top men, which also included a group of Baywatch lifesavers from California.
But it didn’t deter the diminutive Pallister who said she was determined to swim aggressively from the start despite the wash stirred up by the men.
“I even caught a little wave,” said the budding superfish whose father Rick was a champion surf swimmer.
Asked about her first swim in freezing Victorian waters, she was equally unperturbed: “It was a little cold but a lot better than I thought it would be.”
Pallister, who clocked 11.45, blitzed the favourite Brown by a massive 12 seconds.
The six-time winner said the conditions were not to her liking. “It was really messy,” she said. “It was a rough race out there.”
An estimated 20,000 people flooded Lorne for the 37th staging of the event and Victoria’s premier beach resort town once again handled it in its stride.
Swimmers from 12 to 90 took to the surf in groups – some as large as 300 – defined by age and prowess.
“This is the best open water swim in the world,” surf swimming legend and three-time winner John Fox told the crowd on the beach after being announced as winner of the veterans class race.
Fox added that it was not just for elite swimmers. It attracts 5,000 people who take up the challenge each year as a major family and community event.
Olympic and world champions like Kieren Perkins and Daniel Kowalski have won the open race in the past.
It draws a batch of footballers, sportspeople, politicians including a Prime Minister and Premier, and motley celebrity types.
But it’s the many grandfathers and grandmothers who compete with their children and grandchildren that really make this event.
As well as the locals under the auspices of the Lorne Surf Lifesaving Club who voluntarily organise the event which began as a dare in the late ‘70s.
It has now expanded to a two-day carnival with the Mountain to Surf run on Friday and a 5,000m swim for 1,000 participants.
Author: Chris de Kretser
CHRIS de KRETSER was founding editor of The Sunday Sun and the first sports editor of The Herald Sun. He was also night editor and sports editor of The Sun and publisher of Sports Weekly magazine. He was Deputy Olympics Editor of the Herald Sun during the Sydney Games, editor of MX, picture editor of The Herald Sun and Sports Confidential columnist.