By Hannah Blackwell
Hector Pardoe proved himself to be an Olympic gold medal contender this summer with a sensational bronze medal at the World Aquatics Championships.
The Welsh star – Britain’s leading marathon swimmer – finished third in the 10km marathon swim on Qatar to clinch his place at the Paris Olympics later this year.
Pardoe’s sensational finish in the final seconds of the 10km event on Sunday – which saw him surge clear of a small pack in the final few strokes to touch for bronze – was the highlight of four hours of racing across the men’s and women’s contests, which also saw Toby Robinson and Leah Crisp qualify GB spots for Paris 2024.
He was forced to exit the race at Tokyo 2020 after taking an elbow to the eye. He will now target a🏅in Paris & is helping put GB “back on the map” as an open water nation.… pic.twitter.com/eSXLsaZ74q
— Nick Hope – the athlete’s journalist (@NickHopeTV) February 4, 2024
Pardoe – who went to the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 but suffered a brutal eye injury from an opponents’ flying elbow – said: “The emotions were quite high, following the path of redemption from Tokyo 2020 with the eye injury.
“I just wanted to secure the Olympic qualification, so to come out with a medal is even better.
“I was feeling great throughout the whole race, that last lap, I made it happen and followed my strategy perfectly.”
Swimmers had to complete six laps of the 1.6km course, set in the choppy seas of Old Doha Port.
For Pardoe, historically a strong finisher, the aim was to keep himself among the lead pack throughout the entire race, and he proceeded to do just that, retaining a consistent pace and never letting the front few racers out of his sights.
As the pack began to split late in the race, and the athletes veered off the previous course to head into the funnel to the finish, it meant Pardoe was where he wanted to be to launch down the outside of several rivals and swim in to touch the board behind only Hungary’s Kristof Rasovsky and Marc-Antoine Olivier of France.
— Swim Wales (@SwimWales) February 4, 2024
That place also made sure of an Olympic berth.
After a near-miss at his previous outing in the Open Water World Cup, and with memories of the premature end to his Olympic debut in 2021, this was a result a long time in the making for Pardoe – and comes 13 years after Keri-Anne Payne won the women’s 10km title in Shanghai, the last medal on a global level for Britain in the Olympic distance.
“In Funchal in December, I just missed out on that podium by 0.2 seconds,” added Pardoe.
“I wasn’t going to let that happen this time, and I managed to get my hand on the wall first. That’s a medal for GB that puts us on the map in marathon swimming.
“I went into Tokyo as a 20-year-old without much experience. The experience I’ve gained in the last three years will really set me up nicely to compete with the big boys in Paris. ”
Behind Pardoe, Robinson – competing at his third World Championship – was also in search of an Olympic quota spot for Britain.
It’s a brilliant BRONZE for @hector_pardoe 🥉 🙌
After 10km of racing, Hector bursts to get the medal touch in the final metres and secure his first World Champs medal 🚀
That’s also an Olympic spot in the bag 🇬🇧 ✅ pic.twitter.com/DRz9opBCti
— British Swimming (@britishswimming) February 4, 2024
Although he was in touch with the large lead group for much of the race, he slipped off the back of it during the chaotic final lap, meaning every stroke was going to count down the home straight if he was to get inside the qualifying places.
He would ultimately do just that, giving everything to the line and placing 15th overall, high enough to stamp another Paris 2024 ticket for Team GB.
“There was a big moment of uncertainty when I finished, and I was counting the number of people in front of me – and I knew it was a photo finish,” he said afterwards.
“So, 10 minutes went by before I actually found out I’d qualified it, and when I found out, I was so overwhelmed and speechless, just so happy that I’d achieved what I’ve been working for for years.
“There was a group of about four of us coming into the line at the end, and I knew that every place was so important. I had to give it everything I could to win in that sprint finish at the end, it’s what we’ve been training for.”
— Team GB (@TeamGB) February 3, 2024
A day earlier, Leah Crisp and Amber Keegan were fighting through to finish in the Women’s 10km.
A well-paced race from Crisp kept her in contention all the way to the line, as she sat in the top 12 for much of the contest.
By her own admission, things stepped up a notch across the final three kilometres – but reaching the timing board in 17th place overall was enough, under the marathon swimming qualifying criteria and with results elsewhere in the pack, to ensure a quota spot in the Women’s 10km event for Team GB, subject to ratification from World Aquatics.