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Italians win 5K ocean swim

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FUKUOKA, Japan — Italian ocean racers won the first two gold medals of the 2001 world swimming championships Monday, capturing both the men's and women's 5-kilometer events.

In the women's race, Viola Valli finished 26 seconds ahead of Germany's Peggy Buchse, who overtook Valli for a world title in Honolulu last October.

Australian Hayley Lewis, a standout of the 1991 world championships at distances of 200 and 400 meters, edged Germany's Angela Maurer by 2 seconds for the bronze.

American Erica Rose, the 5-kilometer champion at the last overall swimming world championships in 1998, finished seventh, 48 seconds behind the winner.

Three hours later, Luca Baldini finished 54 seconds ahead of Russia's Evgeni Bezroutchenko to win the men's 5K.

Baldini won in 55 minutes, 37 seconds. Fellow Italian Marco Formentini took the bronze in 55:42, a second ahead of American Mark Leonard.

"I didn't really have a plan. I just wanted to open a lead after the first marker, and I guess I caught the other swimmers by surprise," Baldini said.

Synchronized swimming preliminaries also began Monday in the two-week championships. Pool racing begins next Sunday.

This was the sixth world championships medal for Lewis, who has a gold in the 200-meter freestyle, two silvers and a bronze from 1991 and a silver at 800 meters from 1994. She quit pool swimming after a disastrous 1996 Olympics.