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Teenager puts tiny Guam on swimming map

August 11, 2012

LONDON: He got a cheer as loud as the winner’s and Benjamin Schulte felt like one despite finishing dead last in Friday’s marathon swim race at the London Olympics.

While the world’s best long-distance swimmers raced alongside each other like a school of dolphins, Schulte was left to swim the murky waters of the Serpentine all alone.

The 16-year-old from the tiny South Pacific island of Guam knew he could not keep up with his older and more experienced rivals so set himself a more modest aim in the gruelling 10 kilometres event.

“My goal was just to finish,” he said. “Just being here, being given the opportunity to be here. I didn’t want to let down my friends and family back home by not finishing.

“I wasn’t really concerned. I knew going into it I would be swimming alone. I just did my best.”

Schulte completed the exhausting race in two hours three minutes and 35.1 seconds, nearly 14 minutes behind the gold medallist, Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli.

But he got as big a roar as the champion from the massive crowds that lined the 18th century man-made lake in Hyde Park when he reached the end and raised his weary arm one last time to slap his hand on the overhead touch pads.

Schulte had never even contemplated the long distance event until he discovered last year he had a slim chance of swimming at the Games so he entered a qualifying event in Portugal.

COMPLETELY EXHAUSTED

He failed to qualify automatically but was told just last month that a vacancy had come up because New Zealand’s Kane Radford declined to take up one of the spots reserved for an Oceania swimmer.

“People approached me and said I might be able to get the Oceania slot. I thought there was no way it was possible but my dad looked into it and we found out it was possible,” he said.

“That was about a year ago. I had not even done a 10k yet.

“Knowing I had been given this opportunity by the Olympic Committee, knowing that if I stopped before the 10,000th metre I would be letting down everyone who has got me here today.”

Standing 1.88 metres (6ft 2in) tall, Schulte was taught to swim when he was five and made rapid progress before moving to Australia three years ago to train with Dennis Cotterill, who has coached a handful of Olympic champions including Grant Hackett and Sun Yang.

To prepare himself for the Olympics, he swam nine kilometres 10 times a week as well as going to the gym and yoga classes but was still blown away by the speed the race was swum at.

“On the second last lap I was like, ‘I have still got two laps to go’,” he said.

“I was completely exhausted by that time. By that stage I was taking it one stroke at a time.”

-Reuters


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