Open water swimmers Florian Wellbrock and Rob Muffels are friends and competitors
Of course, they also congratulated together. As Finnia Wunram qualified on Sunday morning for the Olympic ten kilometers for Tokyo 2020, Florian Wellbrock and Rob Muffels waited on the edge of the interview zone to compliment their Magdeburg teammate.
The two open water swimmers Wellbrock and Muffels are currently only available in a double pack. Eating, training, traveling - "we have designed our preparation so that we do not deviate from the side of the other," says Wellbrock the SPIEGEL. "We're in a bunch all the time."
In the team hotel at the harbor basin in the Korean Yeosu they also share a double room, they have previously viewed the open water race of Wunram from the balcony. On Tuesday (1 clock CEST, 8 clock local time) they want to qualify themselves for the Olympics 2020 over ten kilometers at the World Cup. Together. They decided that two years ago.
At that time, a pact was concluded, says Wellbrock: The way to Tokyo will only go together. They would be training shoulder to shoulder, day after day, since Wellbrock moved from Bremen to Magdeburg at the age of 17. "We can also get along well outside the pool, spend a lot of free time together," says the 21-year-old.
The first ten swimmers qualify directly for the 2020 Games. Each year, there will be another qualifying race to occupy the remaining 15 of the 25 Olympic campgrounds. But, and now it gets complicated: If only one athlete from one country comes into the top ten, no second swim into the national team in the coming year. Only if neither of them makes it into the top ten will they be allowed to start again in the coming year - but there would be only one place to go.
Since it is only understandable that Wellbrock and Muffels do not allow any thoughts of failure, they want to qualify right here in South Korea. Anyway, it's hard to imagine what the next year of the two would be like if only one day after day the biggest sporting event in the world followed, while the other would have to motivate himself for four more years of hardship and torment.
So the plan envisages that the friends secure both starting positions at the World Cup. And even if no nation has managed to register all four starting positions for men and women since the Olympic premiere of the ten-kilometer race in 2008, the chances after the success of Wunram and Leonie Beck are not bad.
Wellbrock improved significantly in the pool last year. The European champion over 1500 meters freestyle - with strong swimming technique and high ground speed from the pool also successful in open water - believes that the Olympic qualification is not a major hurdle for him: "This may sound really stupid, if you tell it so," but he has just won in the season every international open water race in which he started. Therefore, he is not very worried about getting into the top ten. On the contrary: "That's not my claim, I want to win a medal, and with that Olympia is guaranteed."
Muffels admits that Wellbrock is a favorite for the race. "But I do not rule out that I can beat him, I do not do that to finish second." In any case, he sees Wellbrock not as a direct competitor for the starting places, but as a teammate - and therefore as an advantage: "I consider him one of the strongest long-hauler currently, it is definitely an advantage to have him as a training partner." On the other hand, Wellbrock was also able to learn a lot from the more experienced muffle in the open water. Today it is the other way around: "I change things because I've seen that it works for him," says Muffels and adds: "You should know his competitors, I know him very well."
The 24-year-old also has an advantage that can help him, especially if it should be as close in the men's race in the final meters as last time the women on Sunday. There were only 3.9 seconds between rank one and ten. "Rob has often shown that he can do a second final sprint and he has a high top speed in the last 50 meters, so the Flo does not have that," says coach Bernd Berkhahn.
The plan is set, the goal clear. The fact that in the race all of a sudden friends could become bitter competitors excludes both of them. "Florian once said that if anyone beat him, then I'm the only one he really begrudged, and that's also a sign that our friendship has priority over the competition," says Muffels. "We've always treated each other fairly and in a comradely way in races," says Wellbrock. "That will be the same at the World Cup for 9500 meters, and the last 500 meters will die alone."