Matan Roditi gave the Israeli Olympic team its latest surprise performance in Tokyo, finishing fourth in the 10-kilometer swimming competition at Tokyo Bay on Thursday morning — the highest-placed finish by an Israeli swimmer in Olympic history.
“It’s an incredible accomplishment. It’s hard to digest,” Roditi told the Ynet news site after crossing the finish line in 1:49:24 — just 23.8 seconds shy of Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri who won the bronze.
Roditi said he had set his sights on placing in the top eight and that his teammates were only hoping he’d finish among the first half of the 26 swimmers.
Florian Wellbrock of Germany won the gold, pulling away on the sixth and final lap to win by 25.3 seconds — the largest margin of victory in the history of Olympic marathon swimming, which was added to the program at the 2008 Beijing Games. Hungary’s Kristof Rasovszky won the silver medal, finishing the race in 1:48:59.
Roditi put in a strong performance throughout, maintaining just a small gap from the competition’s leaders and establishing himself within the top five on the last lap at the Odaiba Marine Park harbor.
“I knew there would be surprises because I’ve been feeling great these last few days,” the 22-year-old told Ynet.
“My plan was to get into the top 10 early on and improve my position from there,” Roditi continued. “Throughout the entire race, I tried to save my energy and [the fact that I was at the front of the pack] gave me the boost I needed at the finish.”
The young swimmer, who became the first Israeli to compete in the 10-kilometer open water marathon, acknowledged that more hard work would be needed for him to medal. However, he expressed optimism that he’d be able to improve his standing at the next Olympics in three years.
“I gave an incredible performance. The best I could give. I’m glad I showed up during the money-time, which is the most important thing,” he gushed. “If you’re going to swim well in a competition, then let it be at the Olympics.”
Roditi expressed hope that his performance would lead to the further development of the sport in Israel.
“I hope that many more open water swimmers will now emerge, that swimming will continue to evolve and that a lot of children will be motivated [to join].”
Even with the race starting at 6:30 a.m., the temperature was already 81 degrees Fahrenheit (27.2 Celsius) with 80% humidity, making it feel like close to 90 degrees. Unlike the women’s race the previous day, there were no clouds to mitigate the heat.
Germany’s Wellbrock sprinted out to an early lead, was up front most of the way and won by the biggest margin in Olympic marathon swimming history on another sweltering morning in Japan’s capital.
The stifling conditions got to David Aubry of France, who dropped out with about 3 kilometers remaining and was carried off on a stretcher. French officials said a shoulder injury hampered his training leading up to the race, so his fitness wasn’t good enough to handle the heat and Wellbrock’s pace.
Hector Pardoe of Britain also failed to finish after being elbowed in the right eye. His goggles were knocked off, and he emerged from the water with a nasty gash and a swollen eye.
Defending Olympic marathon champion Ferry Weertman of the Netherlands finished seventh, while American Jordan Wilimovsky was 10th.
Wellbrock stunned the field by opening up more than a 10-second lead in the first kilometer. Everyone else had to work hard just to keep up, which paid off at the end when no one had enough energy to mount a comeback.