Sharon van Rouwendaal Dominates 10k Open Water Race, Wins Olympic Gold

Photo Courtesy: Eric Seals-USA TODAY Sports

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The Netherlands’ Sharon van Rouwendaal won Olympic gold in the women’s 10k open water Monday morning at Copacabana Beach in Rio. Van Rouwendaal won the race by more than 16 seconds, finishing with a time of 1:56:32.1

Italy’s Rachele Bruni picked up the silver medal in 1:56:49.5, and Brazil’s Poliana Okimoto got the bronze in 1:56:51.4. The medal was Brazil’s first in any swimming event at these Games after failing to earn one in 32 pool events, and it is the first-ever women’s swimming medal that Brazil has won.

France’s Aurelie Muller originally finished second in 1:56.48.7, just ahead of Bruni, but she was disqualified for an infraction at the finish. Race video shows that Mueller swam over the top of Bruni in an attempt to get to the finishing pad ahead. Mueller was the reigning World and Olympic champion in the race, and she actually trains with van Rouwendaal under coach Phillipe Lucas in France.

Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha led at the halfway point by a second over van Rouwendaal and Okimoto, but van Rouwendaal pulled ahead by four seconds on the third of four 2.5k laps of the circuit. She picked up the pace on the final lap and pulled well ahead of the field. No one else in the race had even reached the finishing shoot when van Rouwendaal touched.

“I felt so good, I swam so easy, I didn’t feel any fatigue, so after 6km, I changed my mind and though I should push on,” van Rouwendaal said. “I kicked hard for about 200 meters and looked back to see that I’d opened a gap. From there I just used my arms and paced the race. I didn’t feel any fatigue until the very end.”

The medal is the first for the Netherlands in swimming at these Olympic Games, and it extends the country’s streak to five straight Games winning a gold medal. Previous winners include Inge de Brujin (2000 and 2004), Pieter van den Hoogenband (2000 and 2004), the women’s 400 free relay (2008) and Ranomi Kromowidjojo (2012).

Van Rouwendaal has some history in the pool as well as open water, as she won a bronze medal in the 200 back at the 2011 World Championships and a silver in the 400 free last year in Kazan—a week after she won silver in the 10k. She did compete in pool events last week but failed to make any finals.

Van Rouwendaal has battled shoulder trouble throughout her career, missing the 2013 World Championships after struggling with the pain through the London Olympics (where she swam in pool events only). Dogged by more discomfort in the leadup to Rio, van Rouwendaal opted for a month of treatment with Spanish psychotherapist Monica Solana that has left her nearly pain-free.

Her 16.6-second margin of victory is more than eight times the combined margin of victory in the last two Olympic races at this distance. When the open water race made its debut at the 2008 Games in Beijing, Russia’s Larisa Ilchenko beat Great Britain’s Keri-Anne Payne by 1.5, and in London four years ago, Hungary’s Eva Risztov edged American Haley Anderson by just four tenths.

China’s Xin Xin finished fourth in 1:57.14.4, and Anderson was fifth in 1:57:20.2.

Anderson said afterwards that she felt comfortable for the first half of the race, but she fell totally out of contention on the third lap when she fell to 16th.

“I just didn’t set myself up like I wanted to going into the fourth lap,” Anderson said. “It was a bit rough, but I kind of expected that. Everyone’s fighting for those top three spots, so you kind of have to tough it out. I just fell behind. Although I did pass a lot of people that fourth lap, I didn’t set myself up to be successful.”

Germany’s Isabelle Haerle (1:57:22.1), Payne (1:57:23.9), Russia’s Anastaslia Krapivina (1:57:25.9), Ecuador’s Samantha Arevalo (1:57:22.2) and Cunha (1:57:29.0) rounded out the top ten.

The swimmers ended up starting the race from in the water after wading in from the beach. A starting platform was originally intended to be used, but the plan changed when rough conditions broke the platform two days before the race.

“It’s open water, so you really have to go with the flow,” Anderson said. “I think we’re all used to last minute changes like that. You just have to do with it and not worry too much.”

1 Comment

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Craig

    How can Risztov and Muller both be reigning Olympic champions?

Author: David Rieder

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David Rieder is a staff writer for Swimming World. He has contributed to the magazine and website since 2009, and he has covered the NCAA Championships, U.S. Nationals, Olympic Trials as well as the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and the 2017 World Championships in Budapest. He is a native of Charleston, S.C., and a 2016 graduate of Duke University.

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