Open Water swimmer Ferry Weertman hits Seychelles as he targets Olympic gold in Tokyo
Seychelles is one of nine venues in the Open Water Series with the world's top swimmers in action
By Mark Ashenden
Last Updated: 09/08/19 5:59pm
"Sprinting at the end of a 10K race is a mental thing. It's also physical because the pain is incredible but in those last few metres you're thinking 'how far can I push myself today?', am I in the right position?', 'can I even swim?'…and then I look up and just smile to the guy next to me.
"And it really messes with their head! It doesn't always work but I've won a lot of races that way."
Talk of a mad man or tactical genius willing to try anything to get on top of the podium?
Ferry Weertman admits to being a little crazy for loving a sport involving swimming every day over 90 kilometres a week, competing over two hours in freezing or steaming waters, being punched in the face, overcoming waves and dealing with some of the planet's most dangerous creatures.
Interviewing Holland's 'King of the Open Water' (as named by his closest rival) a few minutes after he stepped out of the turquoise waters on the north west coast of Mahe in the Seychelles was extraordinary, slightly intimidating and inspiring.
On the idyllic Beau Vallon beach bathed in 36 degrees, with palm trees waving and the world's media and parrots squawking, in front of me stood this 6 foot 2 inches tall athlete with the bulging chest of a bison and the eyes of a red panda (thanks to his goggles), barely breaking into a sweat discussing the mindset of a successful Open Water swimmer.
"You have to be a bit mad to do this but it's all about the training," said the 27-year-old from Naarden near Amsterdam, who recently qualified for next year's Tokyo Games to have a chance of defending his Olympic crown after finishing seventh at the World Championships in South Korea.
"A race is two hours and you train twice a day, 30 hours a week. It's a full-time job. Most weeks I'm just tired every day, all day and then I train again and I'm even more tired but that's life for Open Water but you can't do anything less or you will be beaten."
After first taking baby swimming classes with his mum, Weertman's career in the water began in spluttering style, but has been rapidly on the rise since his international debut in 2012.
"I used to be a pool swimmer and wanted to qualify for the European Juniors but I was too slow," added Weertman whose handle on Twitter and Instagram is @VeryFerryFast.
"My first year I did really bad and finished way behind the pack. It drove me on and I took it more seriously and I was third. I knew I was doing something right.
"I decided to move from the 5K to the Olympic 10K but it was a slow build. I was sixth at the 2012 Europeans, sixth at the 2013 Worlds, I won the 2014 Europeans, was second in 2015 and then things took off in 2016 when I became Olympic champion in Rio."
Whether it's the chill of Loch Lomond (where he won European gold in the mixed team event in 2018), getting electric shocks training in a Chinese sea, or being hurt by stingrays in Singapore, there is always something to contend with for Weertman and his Open Water colleagues.
With the Seychelles hosting the FINA Marathon Open Water World Series for a second time, the temperatures of the Indian ocean proved to be the main challenge for the 42 male swimmers, albeit with a few distractions from the local wildlife.
"It was beautiful but hot," admitted the Dutchman who finally finished fourth after a late fade. "I was just trying a different strategy. I pushed myself a little bit more.
"After the first half of the race I got to the front, tried to pick up the pace and break up the group. In those sorts of conditions you try to make everybody tired!
"I think I did that and I was trying to change it up and sprint until the end but I was just done!"
The Seychelles is renowned for its incredible habitat with the coral reef, crystal clear water and variety of creatures in and out of the ocean. Was there a chance to appreciate the huge swooping fruit bats or playful dolphins during the race?
"I actually really do try to enjoy it when I'm out," Weertman said. "Especially in the first two laps when I'm trying to stay cool and relaxed. If I see a nice boat or some angel fish then I'll take it all in."
With a trophy cabinet already bulging, Weertman is desperate for more glory in Japan next year. Becoming the first person to win two consecutive golds in an Olympics over the same distance would be an "extraordinary feeling", he said.
His seventh spot at the recent World Championships in Gwanju, South Korea guaranteed his opportunity to attempt just that in less than a year in Tokyo.
But would all the pain be worth it?
"I enjoy swimming and I love the feeling of being in water," he said. "Plus I love winning, or rather I love not losing.
"Feeling the adrenaline of working for a goal, making a plan on how to reach that goal and doing it is just amazing. Seeing that all actually work and come together is what drives me.
"But it's a tough sport. I've never given up on a race and I've only been forced out once because of cramp.
"I have given up on a sprint before because sometimes you just know it's not your day. The worse thing is when you're dehydrated and it savages your arms.
"You try to keep moving. You are so tired and drained and then you have to sprint - that's when you try to start smiling!"