Pardoe on the podium as GB secure Olympic spots

4 Feb 2024

Hector Pardoe charged to Britain's first 10km marathon swimming World Championship medal for more than a decade as three Olympic quota places for Team GB were wrapped up across two days of frantic racing in Doha. 

Pardoe's sensational finish in the final seconds of the Men's 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.

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 Hector 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. 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.

"The emotions were quite high, following the path of redemption from Tokyo 2020 with the eye injury," he said.

"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.

"In Funchal in December, I just missed out on that podium by 0.2 seconds. 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. 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."

A day earlier, Leah Crisp and Amber Keegan were fighting through to finish in the Women's 10km. A well-paced race from Leah 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.

"I got on to the last lap and thought, 'everything I've got left, let's use it and see what I can do'. I got a bit stuck around the second buoy on the last lap, got a bit caught up and lost a few places, so I just had to absolutely go for it down the final kilometre - and I obviously managed to pull it back enough following that. It was quite stressful, really hard and everyone was just really gunning for it," said Leah. 

Leah Crisp action shot Fukuoka 2023
Leah Crisp in marathon swimming action

"I'm so over the moon with the outcome. You spend a lot of hours and hard work and dedication and graft, and so many years have gone into this. I have big relief, but also I’m so over the moon."

Like Leah, Amber only stepped into marathon swimming last year, with both making their Worlds debuts in 2023. In Fukuoka, the City of Sheffield swimmer finished 20th, but she could not quite replicate that result this time around, finishing in 28th place.