GLASGOW (Reuters) - Sharon van Rouwendaal produced the most astounding comeback of the European Championships after losing her way in the 25km open swimming event only to still come agonisingly close to completing a clean sweep of four golds in Loch Lomond on Sunday.
The Dutch swimmer, who had won all three of competitions over 5km, 10km and the relay, ended up with silver in the open water 'marathon' after just being beaten to the finishing board touch by Italy's Arianna Bridi.
Yet that dramatic conclusion told only part of a remarkable story as Van Rouwendaal's hopes had seemed buried when, while leading with five kilometres left, she took a wrong turn and had to swim back to rejoin the back of the field.
Despite effectively needing to swim 200 metres more than her rivals, she fought her way back to the front only to be beaten in the closest of sprint finishes by Bridi.
Amazingly, at the end of more than five and a quarter hours of slog made more difficult by intermittent rain on the choppy, chilly waters of the loch, only one-tenth of a second separated the pair's desperate touches of the finishing board.
The 22-year-old Bridi clocked five hours, 19 minutes and 34.6 seconds with Van Rouwendaal 5:19:34.7 and France's Lara Grangeon eight seconds adrift for the bronze in 5:19:42.9.
The Olympic champion Van Rouwendaal had made a similar navigational error in the European Championships 10km race two years ago when she missed a turn near the finish which on that occasion cost her a medal.
"It's still like gold today. It was a stupid mistake," said an exhausted Van Rouwendaal. "I was swimming so fast that I see I'm not going in a good direction, but my head was spinning. I heard someone yell but then it was too late."
She had to turn and swim back to go round the buoy in the correct manner while watching her rivals going in the other direction and reckoned the effort brought her to tears.
When she fought back, Bridi slowed to let the water out of her goggles and allowed the Dutchwoman to take over at the front while saving energy. It turned out to be the perfect strategy.
"In the last 100, I had cramp in my leg and my head was spinning and when she came next to me I was dead. But I was already dead at 20k," said the 24-year-old.
Earlier, Kristof Rasovszky, open swimming's new major force, won his second gold of the Championships, after another thrilling denouement to the equivalent men's race.
The 21-year-old Hungarian showed his versatility by adding the longest title over 25km to the shortest race, the 5km, that he won on Wednesday.
Yet the man who was beaten to the finishing board in the 10km by Ferry Weertman when, similarly, he had looked in control at the end, suffered another late scare in the sprint to the line, when Russia's Kirill Belyaev pulled back the five-metre gap he had opened in the last 400 metres.
The flagging Rasovszky just held on to win in 4:57:53.5, only one second clear of Belyaev. Italian Matteo Furlan, who also been in the final shake-up, clocked 4:57:55.8.
"I saw the Russian guy coming up like Ferry did, so I saw the finish and tried to swim faster, and be the first to make the panel with my hand and not to be in a photo finish like in the 10k," said Rasovszky.
Olympic and world champion Weertman, already a double winner over the week, decided not to go for a hat-trick, withdrawing before the start of what would have been his 25km debut because he "wanted to go out on a high point."
(Reporting by Ian Chadband; Editing by Christian Radnedge)