Not since the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932 had Germany's swimmers failed to claim a single medal in the pool or on the open water. The German DSV's last hope, 10-kilometer man Christian Reichert, could only manage ninth.
Christian Reichert managed a respectable ninth place in the controversial final of the men's 10-kilometer marathon swim - but the result nailed in Germany's worst Olympic swimming showing since the inter-war years. That left only the divers able to salvage some honor in the water, with Patrick Hausding duly obliging and securing bronze in the 3-meter event.
The Olympic fortunes of Germany's swimming federation, the DSV (Deutscher Schwimm-verband), have been on the wane for some time. In London in 2012, Germans left the pool empty-handed, only for a reprieve to come in the marathon 10-kilometer mens' swim, where Thomas Lurz bagged silver.
It was a similar story in Beijing in 2008 - Lurz won bronze on the open water, while women's freestyle ace Britta Steffen scored a major coup for the DSV with golds over 50 and 100 meters. But they were the only two to make the grade, and Steffen missed out on medals defending her titles in London, retiring a year later.
Lurz, now retired as well, was watching Tuesday's race climax near the Copacabana beach; the 12-time world champion issued a stark challenge to the DSV to make changes in time for the next Games in Tokyo.
"It's time to change something," Lurz told the German sports news agency SID. "No more talking, now it's time to work harder: to concentrate on the important things and to really press ahead… We must streamline the federation and give the resources to the athletes and the coaches who work with them, directly."
The DSV's competitive sports head, Lutz Buschkow, conceded that Lurz's absence in the race was difficult to take.
"He's a fighter, he always struck lots of fear into the competition," Buschkow said. "I'm a little sad that he's no longer active."
Seconds away, after nearly two hours racing
Reichert's last-gasp bid for a podium position missed by just 2.7 seconds, after an hour and 53 minutes in the water - a giant gaggle of competitors fought at the finish with Reichert unable to get to the head of the queue.
"In terms of speed I still had a little in reserve," Reichtert said after the race. "But at one point there was a wall of six people right in front of me, and it simply wasn't possible to get through there."
Prior to the race, the sturdy swimmer had said how he hoped for "high waves and cold water," to play to his skills in tricky conditions. A sunny, still day turned the ocean into more of a millpond for the race. "It was very, very calm, and the water was mega-warm," Reichert lamented afterwards, albeit praising the sights on offer at the venue itself: "It's simply awesome to swim here, to glance across at that beach when you breathe."
Ahead of him, Ferry Weertman of the Netherlands took gold, ahead of Greece's Spyros Gianniotis, with Marc-Antoine Olivier of France claiming bronze.
Germany's female hope in the same event, Isabelle Härle, managed only sixth in her final. That's the best result any DSV competitor has managed to date - four sixth-place finishes being the high points of the games in Rio, apart from Hausding's diving bronze.
msh/apc (dpa, SID)