Keri-Anne Payne of Britain pushed a few competitors out of her way en route to the gold medal in the 10-kilometer open water swimming race at the world championships Wednesday.
Olympic champion Larisa Ilchenko withdrew at the halfway mark with an injury.
Payne, the Olympic silver medalist, clocked 2 hours, 1 minute, 37.1 seconds in the sea off Rome's ancient port of Ostia. She was in the front for most of the race.
"There were a lot of girls that tried to take that lead spot, but I was having none of it," Payne said. "I think I may have pushed a few girls out of the way."
Ekaterina Seliverstova of Russia edged Martina Grimaldi of Italy in a sprint finish for the silver medal. Silverstova finished 0.9 seconds behind and Grimaldi was 1.5 back.
"I tried to fight for the silver but I was exhausted at the end," Grimaldi said.
Ilchenko, who was also the defending world champion in 10K, was brought ashore on a jet ski shortly after the 1-hour mark. Upon reaching the beach, the limping swimmer was accompanied by medical officials.
The Russian had cited the left-leg problem after winning the silver medal in Tuesday's 5K race, won by Melissa Gorman of Australia.
Gorman finished 29th Wednesday.
Payne's gold came less than 24 hours after British diver Tom Daley won the 10-meter platform event, raising the host country's expectations for the 2012 London Olympics.
"There's always going to be pressure on me for London. But a lot can happen between now and then," Payne said.
The South African-born Payne sat out the 5K event to stay fresh.
"I knew the girls yesterday had such a hard 5K, so I was also a little more confident that they were going to be a bit more tired," said Payne, who will also swim the 200 and 400 individual medley events for Britain in the pool next week.
The 200 IM heats are scheduled for Sunday.
"It's going to be tough to recover," Payne said.
Since Beijing, Payne spent most of her time training for her pool events.
"I wasn't really concentrating on open water this year," she said, adding that it only became a priority when the British team looked at its funding allocation and realized her best shot at a medal was in open water.
"So then about three-fourths of the way through the season I had to start thinking about freestyle," Payne said.
The race was held in almost ideal conditions, with the sea fairly calm and the skies clear.
"It was a little wavy, but not too bad. Although the boats don't help when they speed across you," Payne said. "I was glad that lead boat was there, because down the back straight you can't see anything."
The men's 10K race was up next, with the only other medals awarded Wednesday in synchronized swimming, for the free combination. Spain won the gold medal, China took silver and Canada the bronze.
Open water concludes Saturday with the men's and women's 25K marathon races.