The Week That Was: Cunha, Wellbrock Win Olympic Gold in Open Water

Aug 5, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Florian Wellbrock (GER) competes in the men's 10km marathon swimming competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Odaiba Marine Park. Mandatory Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports
Florian Wellbrock on his way to winning Olympic gold in the men's 10K -- Photo Courtesy: Kareem Elgazzar/USA TODAY Sports

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The Tokyo Olympics have concluded, and while pool swimming was over before the second week of the Games, open water, water polo and diving were all in the spotlight. The women’s and men’s 10K races in Tokyo saw Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha and Germany’s Florian Wellbrock earn gold medals. Meanwhile, in the United States, many of the country’s top swimmers who did not make the trip to Tokyo were in action at the Speedo Summer Championships at two sites, in Irvine and Greensboro.

Read the five biggest stories of the week in The Week That Was sponsored by Suitmate.

The Week That Was #1: Cunha and Wellbrock Earn 10K Golds

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

By David Rieder

Women’s 10K: 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.  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.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.

Men’s 10K: Twice during the pool in the Tokyo Olympics, Germany’s Florian Wellbrock held significant lead in an Olympic final with 50 meters to go, only for rivals to overtake him down the stretch. That was not going to happen in the open water as 26 men gathered at Odaiba Marine Park for the men’s 10K. Wellbrock went out hard and held the lead for most of the race, only briefly surrendering the lead to France’s Marc-Antoine Olivier. After 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.

Wellbrock finished in 1:48:33.7, winning by 25 seconds. The only race was for silver as Hungary’s Kristof Rasovszky edged out Italy’s Gregorio Paltrinieri by just over two seconds, 1:48:59.0 to 1:49:01.1.

#2: Speedo Summer Championships in Greensboro and Irvine

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Trenton Julian — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

The Speedo Summer Championships took place two meets taking place on opposite sides of the country. Half the swimmers are in Greensboro, N.C., while the other half are in Irvine, Calif. The meet replaces the standard end-of-summer championships for senior-level and junior-level athletes, with the two usual events combined due to typical low turnout when the meets are around the same time as the Olympic Games. Older swimmers and 18-and-under swimmers had different time standards required for qualification. Most of the top American swimmers either just finished competing at the Olympics or are taking the summer off after narrowly missing the Olympic team.

Among the top performances from the two meets, Trenton Julian recorded the country’s top time in the men’s 200 butterfly (1:54.71) while also picking up wins in the 200 freestyle, 100 butterfly and 200 IM. Another highlight from the Irvine meet was 14-year-old Teagan O’Dell winning four races and breaking Missy Franklin’s 13-14 National Age Group record in the 200 IM while coming close to NAG marks in the 100 back and 200 back. In Greensboro, Charlie SwansonSam StewartAli and Gabby DeLoof and Charlie Clark each posted some solid performances, and 14-year-old Alex Shackell won the 100 butterfly in 59.61, edging out a swimmer (Leah Gingrich) more than twice her age.

Greensboro recaps: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five (Results)
Irvine recaps: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four, Day Five (Results)

The Week That Was #3: U.S. Women’s Water Polo Captures Fourth Straight Olympic Gold

Aug 7, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; United States goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson (1) tries for make a save against Spain in the women's waterpolo gold medal match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

U.S. women’s water polo goalie Ashleigh Johnson makes one of her 11 saves in the gold-medal match against Spain; Photo Courtesy: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

By Matthew De George

For the briefest of moments, the U.S. women’s water polo team looked vulnerable Saturday. In the gold medal game, against the heavy underdog Spain, the U.S. saw an early lead challenged by an even second quarter. Then Ashleigh Johnson and company did what the U.S. does better than any water polo team in the world. Johnson was a brick wall in an outstanding performance, and the U.S. used that platform to run away from Spain with five unanswered goals in the third quarter en route to a 14-5 win in the gold-medal match of the Tokyo Olympics.

It’s the team’s third straight gold medal, a streak that stretches back to London, again defeating Spain in the gold-medal match. The U.S. won silver in Beijing in 2008. It’s a third straight gold for Melissa Seidemann and Maggie Steffens. Maddie Musselman, Rachel Fattal, Kaleigh Gilchrist, Johnson, Aria Fischer and Makenzie Fischer all have won their second consecutive gold.

The Spanish team would’ve sensed some opportunity in the U.S., with the Americans having dropped a group-stage game to Hungary to end a win streak dating back to the Beijing Olympics. But that vulnerability proved illusory, with a gold-medal score near that of the Rio triumph over Italy (12-5). The emotional celebration that followed illustrated that nothing was taken for granted, even from America’s golden generation of polo players.

#4: China Dominant in Diving in Tokyo

Aug 6, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Yuan Cao (CHN) in the men's 10m platform preliminary round during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tokyo Aquatics Centre. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

China’s Yuan Cao, the Olympic gold medalist in the men’s 10-meter platform — Photo Courtesy: Rob Schumacher/USA Today Sports

As they often do, the Chinese team dominated the diving events at the Tokyo Olympics. After Great Britain’s Tom Daley and Matty Lee broke up the stranglehold by winnind gold in synchro platform diving, China responsed by going 1-2 in all four single-athlete diving events during week two of the Games. For the women, Shi Tingmao and Wang Han topped the podium in 3-meter springboard, and on the 10m platform, it was 14-year-old Quan Hongchan and Chen Yuxi winning and placing second, respectively.

For the Chinese men, Xie Siyi and Wang Zongyuzan won gold and silver in the 3-meter springboard, and platform diving wtnt to the duo of Cao Yuan (gold) and Yang Jian. For the Americans, after a pair of medals in the men’s 3-meter synchro events and the women’s platform synchro, the only medal in an individual diving event was Krysta Palmer’s bronze in the women’s 3-meter event. In women’s platform, Delaney Schnell finished fifth for the U.S., and on the men’s side, Andrew Capobianco was 10th in 3-meter and then Jordan Windle and Brandon Loschiavo placed ninth and 11th, respectivey on men’s platform.

The Week That Was #5: Swimmers Brooke Forde and Nick Albiero Earn CoSIDA Academic All-America Top Honors

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Brooke Forde — Photo Courtesy: Peter H. Bick

This week, the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) released its Academic All-America teams, and leading the way on both teams was a swimmer, Stanford’s Brooke Forde and Louisville’s Nick Albiero. Both swimmers won an individual NCAA title this year as seniors, but both are returning for a fifth year at their respective universities. And coincidentally, both swimmers are natives of Louisville, Ky.

Forde was the NCAA champion this year in the 400 IM after previously leading the country in 500 freestyle as a sophomore in 2019. She went on to finish sixth in the 200 freestyle at Olympic Trials this year to qualify for her first Olympic team, and she anchored the U.S. women’s 800 free relay in prelims, earning a silver medal for her efforts. Albiero won the 200 butterfly NCAA title in a tight duel with Cal’s Trenton Julian, and Albiero went on to finish fourth in the 200 fly at Olympic Trials.

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