This is the first Open Water Nationals since the 10K open water races were added in October 2005 to the 2008 Olympic program in Beijing. Adding to the excitement, this year's nationals will give swimmers the opportunity to qualify for three upcoming international events:
- 2006 Mutual of Omaha Pan Pacific Championships (Aug. 17-20, Victoria, British Columbia)
- 2006 FINA Open Water World Championships (Aug. 29-Sept. 3, Naples, Italy)
- 2007 FINA World Championships (March 25-April 1, Melbourne, Australia)
"Open water has always been an exciting event that attracts the toughest swimmers in our sport, but now it takes on a whole new dimension because the 10K is an Olympic gold medal event," said Mark Schubert, USA Swimming's National Team Head Coach and General Manager. "The current open water athletes will have more motivation than ever, and the sport will now attract more pool athletes to make American open water swimming even more competitive on the world stage.
"The year's nationals is going to give swimmers an opportunity to swim this summer in the Pan Pacs 10K, which is a scoring event for the first time ever. Thus, the 10K has the potential to be a pivotal event when awarding the team championship."
Fort Myers has hosted this event since 2002, and 2006 is the third year that the event will be contested in a festival atmosphere with fun events interspersed with the competitive open water races. This year's festival will feature the Toyota Dash for Cash, a 1-mile race with up to $5,000 in cash awards to the top five males and females, in addition to a beachfront concert. People can also participate in the Triterium, a 1-mile run, 1/4 mile swim and 1-mile run.
"We took a regular swim event and turned it into a festival," said Gregg Cross, founder and lead organizer of the USA Swimming Open Water National Championships Festival. "Fort Myers has the perfect setting, including nice, sandy beaches and warm weather; inexpensive food and lodging, and the county and community totally support whatever it takes to make participants and USA officials at home. It just gets bigger every year."
With spots on future Open Water National Teams on the line, this year's 10K National Championship is expected to be extremely competitive, particularly on the men's side. Chip Peterson (Pine Knoll Shores, N.C. / Carteret Currents) has been at the forefront of the U.S. open water surge, capturing 10K victories at the 2005 Open Water Nationals, 2005 World Championships and most recently at the 2006 Pan American Open Water Championships. His victory at the 2005 World Champs made him the first American male since 1991 to capture an open water world title.
However, Peterson should face stiff competition from Jensen and 2005 World University Games medalist Justin Mortimer (Milton, Mass. / Mission Viejo), both traditional pool swimmers. Jensen has been the top U.S. distance freestyler in recent years, winning silver in the 1500m free at the 2004 Olympic Games. He is also the American record holder in both distance events. Mortimer captured gold in the 1500m free at the 2005 World University Games.
On the women's side, Erica Rose (Cleveland Heights, Ohio / Lake Erie SC) is coming off victories in the 5K and 10K races at the Pan Am Open Water Champs. Rose, who has captured four 10K National titles throughout her career, will be challenged by Keller, also a traditional pool swimmer. Keller narrowly missed a medal at the 2004 Olympic Games, finishing fourth in the 800m free. She captured 5K National titles in 2000 and 2002.