Saluki Olympians wrap up action in London

    Head coach Rick Walker and Pamela Benitez in London.

    Head coach Rick Walker and Pamela Benitez in London.

    Aug. 10, 2012

    By John Lock

    LONDON - With the conclusion of the men's 10-kilometer open-water marathon today, the three Southern Illinois athletes competing in the London Olympics have wrapped up competition. Pamela Benitez (El Salvador), Mazen Aziz (Egypt) and Csaba Gercsak (Hungary) all competed in swimming for their respective countries.

    On Aug. 2, Benitez competed in the preliminaries of the 800-meter freestyle. Benitez finished second in her heat and 33rd overall, finishing with a time of 9:02.66. Benitez was hampered when her goggles came loose and filled with water, but she was still able to easily defeat two of the three other swimmers in her heat.

    This morning, Aziz and Gercsak completed the 10-kilometer open-water marathon, an event that was added to the Olympics in 2008. In order to compete, Gercsak and Aziz needed to be ranked in the top-25 in the world in the event. Gercsak finished in one hour, 51 minutes and 31 seconds to finish 18th. Aziz finished in 1:54:33.2 to place 24th. In the nearly two-hour race, both finished less than five minutes behind the gold-metal place of Oussama Mellouli (1:49.55.1).

    Head coach Rick Walker, a leading figure international open-water swimming, served as Olympic swimming coach for Egypt, guiding Aziz in London.

    "All three of these Salukis fought incredibly hard, and they made me appreciate truly Olympic efforts," Walker said. "I couldn't be prouder of these three, and I think they represented the work ethic and competitiveness of all our SIU swimmers"

    The London Olympic Games were a breakthrough for Southern Illinois swimming. Benitez was the first female Saluki swimmer to compete in the Olympics since 1996, and she is just the fourth female in the history of the program to compete at the Olympics. Aziz and Gercsak marked the first time two male SIU swimmers competed in the same Olympics since 1988.