BARCELONA (Reuters) - Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli became the first swimmer to win Olympic and world titles in both the pool and open water when he sprinted to a narrow victory in the 5-km event in Barcelona on Saturday.
The 29-year-old North African powered around the two laps of the world championship harbor course at the end of the Rambla tourist drag in the heart of the Catalan capital in 53 minutes 30.4 seconds.
Canada’s Eric Hedlin was just over a second behind with a time of 53:31.6 to take silver and Thomas Lurz of Germany, who has dominated the event for almost a decade, was third with 53.32.2.
“I didn’t expect to win the 5km,” Mellouli told reporters, adding that he had planned to take a year off after last year’s London Olympics, when he won the marathon (10-km) and took bronze in the 1,500 meters freestyle.
“I did take six months off and got back into training not too long ago,” he said. “To be on top of the world is quite exciting for me.”
Mellouli won the 800 meters freestyle world title in Melbourne in 2007 but was stripped of his medal and banned for 18 months after testing positive for amphetamines.
He returned to win 1,500 meters freestyle gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and won the same event at the 2009 world championships in Rome.
American Haley Anderson claimed the first gold of the world championships earlier on Saturday when she pipped Brazil’s Poliana Okimoto to the line to win the women’s 5-km event.
On a sweltering morning, the 21-year-old came home in 56:34.2 seconds with Okimoto, who led for much of the second lap, a mere 0.2 seconds back and her compatriot Ana Cunha some 10 seconds behind in third.
Anderson’s success, her first world championship medal, follows the silver she won last year as a member of the U.S. Olympic 10-km open water team.
“I have experience doing 10km but the 5km is half the distance and double the fun,” she told reporters.
“My plan for the second half of the race was to get beside Poliana and draft off of her,” she added.
“I waited for the perfect moment to spring ahead. You don’t really know how much you have left, but it was a good finish.”
Writing by Iain Rogers in Madrid, editing by Justin Palmer and Clare Fallon