BARCELONA, Spain -- There was carnage all around after five hours of swimming through Barcelona's picturesque harbor, no one in any position to enjoy the view.
Angela Maurer collapsed in the nearest chair as soon as she climbed out of the water. Brian Ryckeman didn't get that far, simply laying down on the deck, his legs no longer working like they're supposed to. Evan Fabian tried to walk, but about the best she could manage was a wobble -- straight to the medical facility.
And get this: They were all medalists in the 25-kilometer open water race!
Swimming's most brutal event took its usual toll Saturday, pushing the competitors to their absolute physical limits with a test that is as much about surviving as it is winning.
"It hurts so incredibly much," said Ryckeman, who took the silver medal behind Thomas Lurz in the men's race. "I cannot describe the pain, but it's horrible. I guess if you're swimming for the first position, you can push it to a whole other level."
Lurz, a 33-year-old German, completed a career sweep of the world open water events, capturing another gold in a furious sprint to the finish. He won with a time of 4 hours, 47 minutes, 27.0 seconds, beating out Ryckeman by just under half a second, and promptly declared that the first 25K race of his career would likely be his last.
"It was really tough," Lurz said. "I closed my eyes the last 100 meters (because) I had so much pain."
What was hurting?
"Everything," he said. "The taste of the salt water, the arms, the legs, the shoulders. Absolutely everything is hurting."
On the women's side, Italy's Martina Grimaldi claimed victory by an even closer margin -- one-tenth of a second ahead of Maurer, denying the Germans dual victories at the last two open water events of these championships.
Maurer thought she had won on her 38th birthday, the scoreboard initially showing she had touched first. She grabbed a chair, totally exhausted. There was nothing she could do when the official results flashed on the scoreboard, flipping the order of the top two.
"The first minute or so, it was hard to accept it," Maurer said. "I was thinking, `What did I do wrong?' But this is sport."
Grimaldi's time was 5:07:19.7. Fabian claimed the bronze, giving the U.S. its second open-water medal of these championships, just 0.7 seconds behind the winner.
Fabian felt dizzy after climbing from the water and headed off from some medical attention. She needed to lay down a few minutes before she could truly enjoy the first world championship medal of her career.
"I didn't quite have the finishing kick," she said. "But I'm just glad to get on the podium for the USA."
Fabian was feeling better, but everything is relative in the 25K. It may take a while to truly get over this one.
"I don't think I've ever been in so much pain in my life," she said.
Another American, Alex Meyer, just missed a medal. He finished fourth in the men's race, out-touched by Russia's Evegenii Drattcev for the bronze by 0.1 seconds.
"I gave it all I had," said Meyer, a close friend of the late Fran Crippen, who died during a sweltering open-water race in the Middle East in 2010. "These are experiences you've got to learn from. Gain the experience and move on."
Lurz won his second gold of these championships and medaled in all four events, swimming a total of 45 kilometers -- nearly 28 miles -- over the week of competition. He now has captured seven world golds overall covering every event: 5K, 10K, 25K and the 5K team race.
"I'm really satisfied with this gold," Lurz said. "For me, the world championships are great."
The German spent much of the race drafting behind other swimmers, then turned it on after the lead pack negotiated the final buoy, going as hard as he could in front of rows and rows of luxury sailboats docked in the harbor.
"I was a little bit lucky to touch first," Lurz said. "We were all together. Sometimes it's just who has the better line and who can swim alone. I was lucky to be in the middle and I had a little bit of space."
Under a hazy sky, the temperature climbed into the mid-80s but the water readings -- just under 79 degrees -- provided optimum conditions for the swimmers. That was a striking contrast to the scorching water at the 2011 worlds in Shanghai, when 30 percent of the men's field didn't even finish. This time, only three of 35 men failed to complete the event, along with three dropouts in the field of 22 women.
"Shanghai was ridiculous," Fabian said. "I don't think we should ever be allowed to swim in waters that hot. This water was at a very reasonable temperature."
Grimaldi, a bronze medalist in the 10K at last summer's London Olympics, failed to medal in her first two individual races of these championships. She made up for it in the longest event of all.
"It's been an uphill worlds," she said, "but at the end it went well. I told myself I had to hang in and bring something home."
Turns out, the pain was worth it.