BARCELONA, Spain — Thomas Lurz chugged to another gold medal in open water, the sea no match for the old man and his powerful strokes, the Rio Olympics still very much in the realm of possibility.
Si Yajie hurled herself off the 33-foot-tall tower, a waif of a teenager twisting and spinning against the magnificent backdrop of Barcelona, just the latest prodigy in China’s diving empire.
It was a day for old and young at the world swimming championships.
The 33-year-old Lurz led Germany to a dominating victory in the 5-kilometer team competition Thursday, more than a minute ahead of the next team to finish. He remains a formidable force in this bruising sport, with the next Olympics just three years away.
“I haven’t thought of Rio that much,” Lurz said. “I have to take care what I’m going to do after swimming. We will see what’s going to happen these next few years. But I still feel good. As it stands now, I see no reason to stop. This is a great accomplishment.”
The 14-year-old Si is just getting started.
In her first major international competition, she edged two-time Olympic gold medalist and defending world champion Chen Ruolin on the 10-meter platform at Montjuic Municipal Pool.
The facility, located at the edge of a cliff that overlooks the sprawling city below, was the site of diving at the 1992 Olympics. How appropriate. Si looked as though she’s on her way to going for gold at the 2016 Games, bouncing back from a slight wobble on her fourth dive to beat her countrywoman — one of the sport’s biggest stars.
“It doesn’t feel much different,” Si said through a translator, her voice barely above a whisper. “There’s just a lot of foreign divers here.”
Ruolin earned the silver, and no one else was even close. That’s the way it goes in diving, which is essentially the Chinese and everyone else. Si gave her country its sixth gold in seven events on the mountain.
“We’re so used to them beating the competition,” said Britain’s Sarah Barrow, who finished fourth. “It’s pretty much the same every time.”
Ditto for synchronized swimming. Russia made it five-for-five as Svetlana Romashina and Svetlana Kolesnichenko easily won the duet, adding to their victory in the duet technical. Jiang Tingting and Jiang Wenwen of China earned the silver, while Spain’s Ona Carbonell and Margalida Crespi Jaume settled for bronze.
Romashina has now won four golds in Barcelona and 14 in her world championship career. Russia is heavily favored to take the final two synchro events and duplicate its sweep at the Shanghai worlds in 2011.
Lurz knows there will come a time when he has to get on with life after swimming. Yet the way things are going, he sees no need to trade his swimsuit for a business suit.
The German team, which also included Christian Reichert and Isabelle Harle, completed two laps around the Barcelona harbor course in 52 minutes, 54.9 seconds. They went out fourth in the staggered start, 4 minutes behind Russia in the leadoff spot, but passed the Russians as well as New Zealand and Italy to touch ahead of everybody, giving Lurz his sixth career gold at worlds.
Silver medalist Greece wasn’t even close, taking second in 54:03.3.
Lurz won his third medal of these championships and first gold. If he needs any addition motivation for Rio, he has yet to win an Olympic gold, settling for bronze in Beijing and a silver in London.
“It’s great to win a race I’ve never won before,” Lurz said. “Now this is something I have done in my career. I’m very proud of it.”
Spyridon Gianniotis, Antonios Fokaidis and Kalliopi Araouzou took the silver, while the bronze went to the Brazilian team of Poliana Okimoto, Allan Do Carmo and Samuel De Bona.
Gianniotis added to his gold in 10K, while Okimoto became a three-time medalist at these world championships. She won an individual gold in the 10K and a silver in the 5K.
“We went fast,” Gianniotis said. “We trained a lot for this team event. We had the same coach and it was very good for our training. We swam for our country with all the passion.”
The United States won the inaugural team event at the 2011 worlds in Shanghai, but only managed a sixth-place showing this time, less than a half-second out of a bronze.
Andrew Gemmell, joined on the American team by Sean Ryan and 5K gold medalist Haley Anderson, said his trio actually swam a better race than it did while winning two years ago.
But other countries, especially the Europeans, have devoted more training to the team concept, which relies on drafting and swapping out the lead spot while using at least one woman among the three competitors (Hungary, in fact, went with two females and finished ninth out of 22 teams).
“That race was much deeper and much faster than it was in 2011,” Gemmell said. “The other teams have a lot more experience and are putting a lot more emphasis on it. That’s something we can keep improving on.”
Ruolin hasn’t given up on competing in her third Olympics, though the 21-year-old is already at an age when China begins to phase out its top female divers in favor of younger competitors whose smaller, more flexible bodies are better equipped to keep bringing home gold medals.
“There’s always someone who wins and someone who loses,” Chen said. “You can’t always be right at the top all the time. When you fail, it’s how you face your failures. It’s very important to keep moving forward and look toward longer goals.”
Si and Chen were tied for first place after their second and third dives, but Chen struggled on her fourth attempt — a back 3½ somersault — and that was all the edge the youngster needed. She pulled slightly ahead, nailed her final dive and finished with 392.15 points. Her teammate totaled 388.70, while Iuliia Prokopchuk of Ukraine took bronze with 358.40.
American Tori Lamp led after the first round but missed badly on her third and fourth dives, knocking her back to 10th.
The U.S. team, which is rebuilding after winning four diving medals in London, has yet to reach the podium in Barcelona. In fact, the Americans have only one medal overall — Anderson’s open-water gold — through the first six days of competition.
That should begin to change Sunday when the pool swimming events get started. Even without Michael Phelps, the U.S. is expected to dominate with a star-studded team led by Missy Franklin and Ryan Lochte.
They arrived in Barcelona on Wednesday and held their first practice at the Palau Sant Jordi.