Olympics: Ana Marcela Cunha Claims Gold in 10K; 2016 Champ van Rouwendaal Earns Silver

Aug 4, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Medalists from left Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED), Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA) and Kareena Lee (AUS) after the women's 10km open water swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports
Women's 10K swimming medalists, from left, Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands, Ana Marcela Cunha of the Brazil and Kareena Lee of Australia; Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

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Olympics: Ana Marcela Cunha Claims Gold in 10K; 2016 Champion van Rouwendaal Earns Silver

Competing in the warm waters of Tokyo Bay at the Odaiba Marine Park, the 25 women qualified for the 10-kilometer marathon swim went off at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday morning in Tokyo. As the field spread itself out, American Ashley Twichell opened up a lead and held that lead for most of the race, but Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha hung with Twichell and went in front at various points. Germany’s Leonie Beck went into the top group on lap six of the seven-lap course, but Cunha got back in front early in the final lap and never surrendered that lead.

Aug 4, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Gold medalist Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA) reacts with Ashley Twichell (USA) after winning the women's 10km open water swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

Olympic 10K gold medalist Ana Marcela Cunha, left, and American Ashley Twichell greet each other after the race Tuesday; Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

As Cunha tried to break away, two swimmers managed to stay close, the Netherlands’ Sharon van Rouwendaal and Australia’s Kareena Lee. Van Rouwendaal, the defending gold medalist from the 2016 Olympics in Rio, hung in the back of the pack for much of the race before accelerating down the stretch, and in the final 500 meters, it became clear that none of the other swimmers in the race were going to earn a medal. Cunha remained a bodylength ahead, while van Rouwendaal and Lee fought for silver.

Cunha got to the pad in 1:59:30.8 to earn her first Olympic medal and the second ever for Brazil in open water Poliana Okimoto took bronze at the Rio Olympics.

“It’s my third Olympic Games. In 2008 I had no chance, in 2012 I didn’t qualify and Rio 2016 was not the result we expected,” Cunha said. “We arrived here wanting, as much as you can, this medal and around 10 days ago, I said to my coach to win this race will be very difficult for my opponents because I want it so hard, so much and I’m really well prepared.”

A moment later, van Rouwendaal touched in 1:59:31.7 to secure the silver medal, and Lee got to the wall third for the bronze medal in 1:59.32.5.

“I think I did the best race possible,” van Rouwendaal said. “I was one of the favorites here and that’s really, really hard in open water because everybody’s looking at you, and every round I couldn’t come up a little bit more in the front.

“I had to be smart and I didn’t want to swim in front because as the favorite, people would maybe pull me back, so I tried to stay second and third, and then I saw Ana it’s best let her (stay) in front, then maybe I could come back, but it got really hard. I couldn’t do better, if I would be in the front I would have been pulled back. This is the best I could do today.”

The lead pack lost competitors as the swimmers approached the finishing chute. The next best swimmer, Hungary’s Anna Olasz, was a little more than two seconds back of Lee as she finished in 1:59:34.8. Beck was fifth in 1:59:35.1, while Americans Haley Anderson (1:59:36.9) and Twichell (1:59:37.9) finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Anderson was a three-time Olympian after previously taking silver in the 10k her first Olympics in 2012, while Twichell was making her Olympic debut at age 32. Both those swimmers are expected to retire following the Tokyo Games.

After the top seven swimmers finished within just over seven seconds of each other, China’s Xin Xin was eighth in 2:00:10.1. Xin was the reigning world champion in the event from 2019, but she could not keep in contact with the field at the end. Xin was actuall 37 seconds ahead of the next-best finisher, France’s Lara Grangeon (2:00:57.3). Rounding out the top 10 was Germany’s Finnia Wunram in 2:01:01.9.

France’s Rachele Bruni, the silver medalist at the 2016 Olympics, ended up 14th in 2:02:10.2