Funny thing about the swimmers in this nautical mile event from Angel Island to Tiburon: Though they were in the 61-degree Bay for anywhere from 20 to 55 minutes, nearly every swimmer emerged from the water with a big smile on his or her face.
Apparently, stroking with like-minded folks within view of the San Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge inspired a certain kind of joy. Either that, or they were just glad to be out of the water.
"I never swam in such cold water," said Evgueni Bezroutchenko, who came all the way from Moscow for the Tiburon Mile. "In Russia, we swim open-water during the summer only, so my muscles are not used to such temperatures.
"But it is very beautiful."
Bezroutchenko, an open-water specialist competing against a number of pool-bound Olympians, finished seventh overall in 19 minutes, 46 seconds. The winner was defending champion Ryk Neethling of South Africa, who took just 19:31 to get from Ayala Cove on Angel Island to the docks outside Sam's Anchor Cafe in Tiburon.
Calm waters made conditions for open-water swimming ideal. Neethling, for example, finished yesterday's swim more than six minutes quicker than he did in winning last year, when the water was choppier.
"The group here was a lot stronger than last year," Neethling said. "Whatever it takes to win. I wouldn't come all this way to get second. It was bloody cold but everyone was swimming in the same water."
Close behind Neethling was Mark Leonard of Ann Arbor, Mich., who clocked 19:35. In third was the early leader, Chad Carvin of Laguna Hills, Calif., at 19:39.
The women's winner, two-time Olympian Cristina Teuscher of New Rochelle, N.Y., wasn't far behind the leading men. In fact, she finished fifth overall, in 19:42. The event's two-time women's winner, Olympic gold medalist Brooke Bennett of Valrico, Fla., came in second in 19:56. Lindsay Benko of Manhattan Beach, Calif., was third, in 20:38.
Neethling and Teuscher took home $10,000 checks for their efforts. Second and third were worth $2,000 and $1,000, respectively. According to organizers, it was the biggest payday in the history of open-water swimming.
Teuscher paid a toll for her victory. Elbows and feet were flying at the 9 a.m. shotgun start (literally; a shotgun was used to herald the start) and the women's winner sported a black eye and bruised ribs afterward.
"I got beat up," she said. "I got a little black eye when someone punched me. Brooke said, 'Be careful I got punched last year.' One guy kicked me in the ribs. Cold water helped it go numb."
Ah, the joy of it all.