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Ilchenko, Lurz Win 5-km, Russia Strikes Gold
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Larisa Ilchenko and Thomas Lurz won the first gold medals of the world swimming championships in Melbourne Sunday, adding to their burgeoning personal collections in open water events.

Ilchenko pushed jellyfish and a few of her fellow competitors aside to win her fourth consecutive 5-kilometer race. Swimming in Port Phillip Bay after a start from the famous St Kilda pier, Ilchenko and Ekaterina Seliverstova gave Russia a 1-2 finish.

"For me it just confirms that to hold on to a title is harder than to get it in the first place," Ilchenko said.

Lurz won his third straight men's 5-km race, finishing in 56 minutes, 49.6 seconds, one second ahead of Evgeny Drattsev of Russia. Spyridon Gianniotis of Greece took the bronze.

The 27-year-old German also won the 10-km race in Naples last year and will be favored in Wednesday's race over that distance off St Kilda.

"I hope I can recover really fast," said Lurz. "I'm a little older so I hope I can still win."

In the other medals decided yesterday, Russia remained the dominant force in synchronized swimming, claiming another team title.

Russia won the free combination gold with a near-perfect score of 99.000 points, easily beating runner-up Japan (97.833). The United States rallied to win its first medal of the championships, finishing third at 96.500.

The Americans leapfrogged Spain, which was third entering the final but dropped a spot when a disappointing routine earned a score of 96.334.

Kate Brookes-Peterson of Australia won a disputed bronze in the women's open water race. The fourth-place finisher, Britta Kamrau-Corestein of Germany, claimed she was pulled from behind by the Australian in the final 100 meters.

"Yesterday, everyone was so kind and friendly - everyone was wishing each other good luck," Ilchenko said. "Today all the smiles were wiped off. It was a fight from the first moments of the day."

Ilchenko, who also won the 10-km race in Naples last year, finished in 1 hour, 41.3 seconds, with Seliverstova 2.3 seconds behind and Brookes-Peterson 6.3 seconds behind the winner.

Although world swim championships are held every two years, the open water races are held annually. Ilchenko won in Naples, Italy, last year, in Montreal in 2005 and in Dubai in 2004.

Diving competition begins today at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Center with the men's 3-meter synchronized event and the women's 10-meter synchro. China has the defending champions in both events - He Chong and Wang Feng in the men's and Jia Tong and Yuan Peilin in the women's platform.

Wang is back with a new partner in the men's event - Qin Kal - and Jia will also be joined by a new partner, Chen Ruolin.

(Shanghai Daily March 19, 2007)

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