Davies makes a splash in more ways than one

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The Independent Online

David Davies was brave, wayward, impressive and dogged, then exhausted, punch drunk, bravely wayward and briefly unconscious.

The blackout was after finishing the 10km open water swim in second place having led for most of it. His reaction to silver was expressive, amusing (waywardly but not maliciously so), philosophical and honest.

Say what you like about the Olympic Games' newest event, but after just one race for each gender, the marathon swim has already put itself on the agenda as a must-see event. And Davies, 23, the latest Welsh success story in a fine sporting year, has confirmed himself as serious contender.

This was only his third 10km. He has one win, one second place " at last year's world championships" and now this, an Olympic medal. “I've never done anything as tough in my life,” he said. Decisions on whether he will do it again in 2012 will wait.

In the end, after four laps of the Shunyi Rowing Park and one hour, 51 minutes and 51.6 seconds of battle, it was the Netherlands' Maarten van der Weijden who took an emotional gold. The Dutchman remains in remission from the leukaemia that threatened more than his career seven years ago. “He's a really tough competitor,” Davies said. “His story's amazing and one that can inspire people. What he has achieved is phenomenal.”

Davies was 1.5sec behind, with Germany's Thomas Lurz third. The pre-race favourite, Russia's Vladimir Dyatchin, was disqualified for two yellow cards. He deserved them for trying to dunk his rivals in the moving scrap for carbohydrate gels and other sustenance during the race. Boo! Hiss! If the women's race on Wednesday was a Fight in a Lake, then this was Pantomime Aquatics.

“It's only my third race so I knew I was going to be an open water novice in terms of the tactics and going straight,” Davies said. “It's really hard to go straight, especially when your head's all over the place.”

Not going in the right direction ultimately cost the man from Cardiff. Through tiredness and confusion he was unable to find the best racing line in the last few hundred metres. He had led for most of the time until then, aside from one other short meander when Greece's Spyridon Gianniotis (born in Liverpool of a Scouser mum, for the record), nipped ahead. Gianniotis finished 16th so there is no need here to consider further his Merseyside roots.

In the run-in, Davies upped the pace even though his body was shattered. He crashed head-on into at least 10 marker buoys, which cannot have helped his mental state. “A blur,” he said. He could not see well. “Delirious,” he said. Van der Weijden nicked through. “No beating around the bush, I made errors out there,” admitted Davies. But he was rightly proud of staying the course for a medal.

“A big heart and big balls, if you'll excuse the phrase,” he said. “That's what the last 800 metres was all about. My arms were gone. My legs were gone. It was just a case of seeing what was left in my body. I didn't fold. I gave it everything. I left nothing out there. No regrets is all you can ask for.”

Dazed at the end, the first thing Davies did was move to Van der Weiden in the water and embrace him. The Welshman then dragged his body onto the pontoon and passed out. For short, worrying moments, he received medical attention. An ambulance was called. “I was just tired,” he said. “The stretcher made it look more dramatic than it was ... my body was drained, low on sugar. I felt bloated, sick, achy. I'll sleep well tonight.”

After taking on board sugar, Davies was ready to face the press. He was speaking happily and articulately in the “mix zone” about his experience when an official - a Chinese woman for whom the adjective “overzealous” might have been invented - barked repeatedly in his ear in Chinese and tried to manhandle him away.

“Will you shut up, please?” he asked her at first. More hassling followed. More barking. Then a tug on Davies' arm. “Will you take your hands off me, please?” asked Davies.

The official wanted him to head to the nearby podium but the medal ceremony was still 10 minutes away and Davies talked on. He was grabbed again. “Touch me one more time,” the mild-mannered Davies warned. And then the official touched him one more time, barking louder.

Davies had a plastic bottle of Evian in his hand. He turned. A moment later his bottle was less full. It was raining hard, but not all the water on the official's head was rain. No complaints were made. And certainly not from any spectators.