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Jack Burnell: "Pool swimming bored me a bit…"

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The most unfortunate swimmer of the men’s 10km open water event at the 2016 Olympics was beyond doubt Jack Burnell, who was disqualified on the basis of receiving two yellow cards by the officials. He was very furious about the decision, but he started the 2017 season superbly by winning the second leg of the FINA/HOSA 10 km Marathon Swimming World Cup, so he will be definitely among the favourites at the 17th FINA World Championships.

Open water swimmers usually start their career in the pool, and Jack Burnell was not an exception either. The Scunthorpe-born athlete was a specialist of the 1500m freestyle, and he achieved some notable results, like winning some medals in the British National Championship, but the big breakthrough did not arrive.

"I was originally a 1500m pool swimmer and, if I'm honest, it bored me a bit. Eight lanes, eight people against you, same temperature water, you turn up and you're indoors all day. It wasn't my cup of tea. Being introduced to open water swimming through the Talent ID programme really opened my eyes to the tactics and a completely different dimension to the sport of swimming which I'd not experienced in the pool." – he said to fina.org.

He secured a top 10 finish with eighth at the second leg of the 2013 FINA Marathon Swimming World Cup in Argentina before sealing a spot on the open water team bound for the Barcelona World Championships. His first WC was a saw continued progress, finishing just 15 seconds behind the first place finisher in 15th in the 10km.

Burnell recorded two top ten finishes at the European Championships in Berlin back in 2014, a sixth and seventh place finish in the 10km and 5km team respectively.

The 2015 World Championships in Kazan saw Jack Burnell record his best major international performance to date when he finished fifth in the 10km marathon behind Jordan Wilomvsky, Ferry Weertman, Spyridon Gianniotis and Sean Ryan.

He won two World Cup legs in the same year, claiming gold in Balatonfüred and Mexico as well.

At the 2016 European Championships in Hoorn he claimed silver, so finally he could step on the podium. It was a dramatic race, since gold medalist Ferry Weertman won by only 0.6 seconds, and Burnell defeated bronze medalist Marc-Antoine Olivier by 0.4 seconds.

Burnell’s goal was to fight for the gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Games as well, but the race turned to be a nightmare for him. Burnell was disqualified for two yellow cards handed out for unnecessary contact with other swimmers, after initially appearing to have finished fifth in a photo finish with bronze medalist Marc-Antoine Olivier and Zu Lijun. The second yellow came close to the finishing line after a tussle with defending Olympic champion Oussama Mellouli, who was also yellow carded but ultimately finished 12th.

"The whole thing is a joke. I was disqualified two metres from the finish. No-one was either side of me and he pulls out a yellow card. I could not physically have touched anyone and I got a yellow card. I shook my head at the guy. This is meant to be the pinnacle of our sport and there are referees who have not got a clue what they are doing." (bbc.co.uk, 16 Aug 2016)

Burnell was very motivated after this story at the beginning of the 2017 season, and he won the second leg of the FINA/HOSA 10km Marathong Swimming World Cup in Abu Dhabi in March, finishing ahead of Olympic champion Ferry Weertm and David Aubry.

“I am out here to win every single race I go into, I am not out here to come second, third or fourth. So for me it’s about turning up to races in the best possible shape I can and showing people what I can do.” – he said to fina.org after the competition.

The open water swimming events of the 17th FINA World Championships will be held from 15 to 21 July in Balatonfüred.

JACK BURNELL

Born: Scunthorpe (England), 23 August, 1993

Medal record:

European silver medalist (2016 Hoorn, 10 km)