Britain have won 39 medals at this Olympics - but have any of them been harder earned than David Davies' silver in the men's 10k open water race?

And is there a more deserving champion than the guy who beat him to gold?

Welshman Davies said he felt "violated" after his swim - he was kicked in the mouth, swum over, and had his goggles knocked off in the course of the one hour 51mins 51second race.

Wednesday's women's winner Russian Larisa Ilchenko said it had felt like "boxing not swimming".

And in today's race, pundit and former Olympic bronze medallist Steve Parry said it looked like Davies was having to practice the art of taekwondo at the same time as well as executing his strokes.

By the end of it he was tacking like Ben Ainslie as he flailed up the final 300m, his wayward line in part responsible for losing him his seven-metre lead to eventual winner Dutchman Maartin van der Weijden.


Davies admitted he was "delirious" by the end of his ordeal - and ended up in the back of an ambulance having collapsed as he left the water.

He looked unconscious momentarily (though he said afterwards he was just having a lie down and opened his eyes in surprise to find himself being bundled onto a stretcher!).
"The hardest race of my life," he said afterwards.

He said he'd only decided to go for the 10k at the start of the year "after lots of persuasive phone calls".

But said he was delighted with his Olympic "scoresheet" - one 1500m final in the Water Cube and one silver medal in Shunyi rowing lake.

(After all that, perhaps it was no wonder he lost his rag with an over-officious official at his post-race news conference and reportedly tipped water on her before calling a halt to proceedings.)

Actually it might have been worse for Davies in the medal stakes had Van der Weijden chosen to use some of the dirty tactics that are so apparent, and compelling, in this brilliant new event. (The world champion Vladimir Dyatchin was red-carded for too many fisticuffs).

Instead the Dutchman opted to sit patiently on Davies' heels despite the Welshman's wayward line - and then strike in the final 150m, straightening up to claim gold by 1.5 seconds.

He could have used up one of his spare yellow cards and given Davies a tug - which would certainly have cost the Welshman the silver as Thomas Lurz of Germany was only half a second behind.

But instead the 6ft 7ins Dutchman chose to win fair and square, and it was nice to see the pair embrace in exhaustion in the water afterwards.

It was a sensational finish - and a sensational story.

Van der Weijden was diagnosed with leukaemia seven years ago - but following a stem cell transplant came back stronger to compete at the 2003 open water world championships before he was crowned world champion over 25km in Seville earlier this year.

It was fitting that he took his place in history as the first gold medallist in the new event.

Cardiff-born Davies embraced Van der Weijden at the end of the race and said afterwards he was "a complete gentleman and a great ambassador for the sport".

"I said to him at the end that I was really proud of him. He's a really tough competitor, his story's amazing and one that can inspire people. What he has achieved is phenomenal."

Indeed van der Weijden regards himself as living proof that a cancer diagnosis does not have to be a death sentence.

"I am trying to spread the word about my story - you can do anything you want after surviving cancer. If you have cancer it is not the end, if you are lucky there is a whole world out there for you still."

"Before the Games I was fantasising about winning the gold medal, because you have to fantasise 100 times about something before you can win it, I was thinking I would be jumping up and down or screaming, but when it came to it , I just finished and felt amazed."

Like many people reading this I expect, I've seen at first-hand what cancer - and also the required treatments for it - can do to people dear to me. So I found his story very moving and uplifting.

"When you are in hospital and feeling so much pain and feeling so tired, you don't want to want to think about the next day or week - you just think about the next hour. It teaches you to be patient."

Next time I'm finding the going a bit tough, I'll be thinking of his words, and deeds.

Professor Ghulam Mufti, professor of haemato-oncology at Kings College London says Maartin is a "fantastic advert for transplants".

"This really does show how successful transplantation is in this day and age. It's really life-saving - it brings normality of life afterwards. Seven years on from being diagnosed and he is most likely cured."

On a final note, I hope the open water event is here to stay after a fantastic impression on its first outing. (But can we have some more cycling disciplines too?)

From a British perspective it delivered three rare swimming medals including the first in Beijing for a British man - and two great human interest stories in Van der Weijden and Natalie du Toit, the amputee swimmer who finished 11th on Wednesday.

"It has proved exceptionally popular," said Parry.

"The common perception beforehand was it had the potential to be pretty boring but it has actually delivered some of the most exciting racing in the Olympics."

Claire Stocks is the BBC's interactive editor for Olympic sports. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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