Swimming World November 2021 Presents – The 2021 Open Water Swimmers of the Year: Ana Marcela Cunha and Florian Wellbrock

Swimming World November 2021 - Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year - Ana Marcela Cunha
Brazil's Ana Marcela Cunha [Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar / USA Today Sports]

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The Open Water Swimmers of the Year:
Ana Marcela Cunha and Florian Wellbrock

By Dan D’Addona and David Rieder

 

Swimming World November 2021 - Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year - Ana Marcela Cunha 2 name plate

Swimming World November 2021 - Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year - Ana Marcela Cunha 2[Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar / USA Today Sports]

Ana Marcela Cunha continues to be the world’s most dominant woman in open water, capturing Swimming World’s Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year title in 2019 and 2021. (Because of the COVID pandemic, the award was not presented in 2020.)

In the biggest race of the past five years, the Brazilian star was at her best at this past summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games, surging to the 10K open water gold medal.

Twenty-five women qualified for the race, which began at Odaiba Marine Park.

She didn’t lead from the outset. In fact, she didn’t even lead for most of the course. It was Ashley Twichell who set the pace and led for most of the race, but Cunha swam right with the American. Germany’s Leonie Beck went into the top group on Lap 6 of the seven-lap course, but once Cunha got back in front early in the final lap, she never surrendered the lead.

But it wasn’t as simple as all of that.

As Cunha tried to break away late in the race, 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, had a similar race strategy as Cunha and used a late surge to earn the silver medal in Tokyo.

In fact, after nearly two hours of swimming, Cunha was able to maintain her body-length lead over van Rouwendaal, getting to the touchpad just 9-tenths ahead of her Dutch rival, 1:59:30.8 to 1:59:31.7—and only 1.7 seconds ahead of Lee at 1:59:32.5.

The gold was Cunha’s first-ever Olympic medal and the second-ever medal for Brazil in open water, as Poliana Okimoto took bronze at Rio.
“This is my third Olympic Games,” Cunha said after the race. “In 2008, I had no chance, in 2012 I didn’t qualify, and Rio 2016 was not the result we expected.

“We arrived here in Tokyo wanting—as much as you can—this medal, and around 10 days (before the race), I said to my coach that for my opponents to win this race, it will be very difficult because I want it so hard, so much…and I’m really well-prepared.”

Swimming World November 2021 - Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year - Florian Wellbrock name plate

Swimming World November 2021 - Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year - Florian Wellbrock
[Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar / USA Today Sports]

In 2019, Florian Wellbrock was the world’s premier distance swimmer both in the pool and in open water. The German was actually competing in open water for the first time at the World Championships, and he emerged with a gold medal in the 10K race, edging out France’s Marc-Antoine Olivier by just 2-tenths to capture the world title. A week-and-a-half later, Wellbrock out-dueled rivals Mykhailo Romanchuk and Gregorio Paltrinieri to win the world title in the 1500 freestyle. He set himself up to head to the Tokyo Olympics as a favorite in both events after finishing just 32nd in the 1500 at his first Games in Rio.

But Wellbrock’s Olympics did not get off to the best start in his first event, the 800 freestyle. It was no surprise to see Wellbrock battling Romanchuk and Paltrinieri for the majority of the race, and Wellbrock took over the lead with 50 meters to go. But on the last length, American Bobby Finke stormed from a second-and-a-half back to steal away the gold medal. At the same time, both Paltrinieri and Romanchuk passed Wellbrock, so he was denied a chance to win his first Olympic medal.

Three days later, Wellbrock swam in the 1500 free Olympic final, and he led for most of the race. With only 50 meters to go, the margin was 7-tenths over Romanchuk and Finke. But then, Finke went crazy once again and sprinted ahead of the field to win gold—and Romanchuk, too, turned on the afterburners. Wellbrock hung on to win bronze, but it was a rough end to his week in the pool.

But Wellbrock still had to race in the open water 10K, and this time, he finished. Wellbrock went out hard and held the lead for most of the race, only briefly surrendering the lead to France’s Marc-Antoine Olivier. A pack of about six swimmers were close heading into the last of seven laps of the course, but Wellbrock just annihilated the field at that point and pulled away to win gold—by an incredible 25 seconds!

And for that accomplishment, winning gold in the single most important race in open water swimming every four-year cycle, Wellbrock wins the honor of Swimming World’s Male Open Water Swimmer of the Year.

 

To read more about each of our 2021 Open Water Swimmers of the Year,
Click here to download the full November issue of Swimming World Magazine, available now!

Swimming World November 2021 - Ana Marcela Cunha - Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year - COVER [PHOTO BY KAREEM ELGAZZAR / USA TODAY SPORTS]

 

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FEATURES

012 2021 OPEN WATER SWIMMERS OF THE YEAR
by Dan D’Addona and David Rieder
Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha and Germany’s Florian Wellbrock both captured Olympic gold in Tokyo and repeated as the world’s elite open water swimmers in both 2019 and 2021.

014 2021 OPEN WATER HIGHLIGHTS
by Dan D’Addona
Although the Tokyo Olympic Games commanded the spotlight in 2021, there were many other open water highlights throughout the year.

018 ISHOF FEATURE: AQUATOTS MURDER CASE—THE KATHY TONGAY STORY (Part 2)
by Bruce Wigo
This is the second of a three-part story about “The Aquatots Murder Case” that first appeared in the October issue of Swimming World. It is about Kathy Tongay, a little girl whose father, Russell, had been training her almost from birth to be an expert diver and swimmer. When she died at the age of 5, her father was arrested for murdering his daughter.

022 PERHAPS OVERLOOKED…BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
by John Lohn
As we creep closer to signing off on this Olympic year, Swimming World offers a look at six athletes—all members of the International Swimming Hall of Fame—who hold a special place in history, even if they are not always at the forefront of the mind.

025 CONTINUING TO MAKE AN IMPACT
by David Rieder
Anthony Nesty’s accomplishments as a swimmer in the late 1980s and ’90s made him a national icon. But decades after that, he is still making a huge impact on the sport from a different vantage point—as a coach.

028 MENTAL PREP: BEFORE THE BEEP WITH DAVID CURTISS
by Shoshanna Rutemiller

030 NUTRITION: THE IMPORTANCE OF IRON—LOW MEANS SLOW!
by Dawn Weatherwax
Iron is a mineral that directly impacts performance.

COACHING

016 COACHING IN A CHANGING ENVIRONMENT (Part 1)
by Michael J. Stott
In the first of two articles, Swimming World explores how coaches and administrators coped with the recent unpleasantness of COVID-19.

036 SPECIAL SETS: AUDREY DERIVAUX—KILLER QUEEN
by Michael J. Stott
Young Audrey Derivaux of Jersey Wahoos has turned in comparable times to the 11-12 age group superstars who have excelled before her.

040 SWIMMING TECHNIQUE CONCEPTS: DISTRUST IN SWIMMING SCIENCE IS NOT A MYSTERY
by Rod Havriluk
The fact that general scientific information is routinely ignored provides some perspective about the difficulty in applying science to the sport of swimming. While a single technique element cannot guarantee success, American Lydia Jacoby’s Olympic victory suggests that using science can provide a competitive advantage.

042 SPECIAL SETS: DANIEL DIEHL—DEFINITELY DRIVEN
by Michael J. Stott
Daniel Diehl, 15, of the Cumberland YMCA Sea Otters is Maryland’s—and the nation’s—top-ranked male swimmer in the Class of 2024. In recent months, he has either broken or knocked on the door of several national age group records. In October, as the youngest male on the U.S. National Junior Team, he notched seven top 10 individual finishes at the FINA World Cup meets in Germany and Hungary.

044 Q&A WITH SWIM IRELAND’S NATIONAL PERFORMANCE DIRECTOR JON RUDD
by Michael J. Stott

045 HOW THEY TRAIN IRISH OLYMPIAN DARRAGH GREENE
by Michael J. Stott

TRAINING

039 DRYSIDE TRAINING: BACK TO BASICS (Part 2)
by J.R. Rosania

JUNIOR SWIMMER

047 | UP & COMERS: AVA BUHRMAN
by Shoshanna Rutemiller

COLUMNS & SPECIAL SECTIONS

007 THE OFFICIAL WORD

008 A VOICE FOR THE SPORT

009 DID YOU KNOW: ABOUT “DO YOU KNOW THAT….”?

032 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE

048 GUTTERTALK

049 PARTING SHOT

 

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