Skip to main content

Silver medalist Sharon van Rouwendaal, of the Netherlands, from left, gold medalist Ana Marcela Cunha, of Brazil, and bronze medalist Kareena Lee, of Australia, stand on the podium during the victory ceremony for the women's marathon swimming event at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Aug. 4, 2021, in Tokyo.David Goldman/The Associated Press

Ana Marcela Cunha of Brazil won the women’s 10-kilometre Olympic marathon swimming event in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Cunha touched first in 1 hour, 59 minutes, 30.8 seconds, finishing nine-tenths of a second ahead of defending champion Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands. Van Rouwendaal took silver in 1:59.31.7.

Kareena Lee of Australia earned bronze in 1:59.32.5.

Cunha won her first medal in her third Olympics. She was 10th five years ago in Rio de Janeiro and fifth in the 2008 Beijing Games.

“We arrived here wanting, as much as you can, this medal,” Cunha said. “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.”

American Haley Anderson finished sixth and her teammate, Ashley Twichell, was seventh.

Cunha and Twichell traded the lead through the first five laps before the American dropped to fourth. Leonie Beck of Germany moved into first ahead of Cunha on Lap 6, when the top eight swimmers broke away from the field. They swam in parallel groups of four, with the Brazilian soon taking over the lead for good and slapping the overhead timing device to clinch the gold.

“We are Latin people; we are hot, we are emotional people,” Cunha said, “so I had to be very cold mentally in the race to be focused. I knew I was prepared for that.”

Gold medalist Ana Marcela Cunha, of Brazil, gets emotional after winning the women's marathon swimming event at the 2020 Summer Olympics on Aug. 4, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan.Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press

Sporting green-and-yellow hair resembling the colours of Brazil’s flag, Cunha smiled and signalled No. 1 after getting out of the water.

After putting the medal around her neck, Cunha set down her bouquet on the podium and saluted the flag with her right hand. She later took a playful bite out of her medal.

Van Rouwendaal was among the top 10 before beginning her move on Lap 5. She worked her way into third behind Beck and Cunha, and outswam Lee on the final lap to secure silver.

“I had to be smart and I didn’t want to swim in front because as the favourite, people would maybe pull me back,” Van Rouwendaal said, “so I tried to stay second and third, and then saw Ana. It’s best to let her stay in front, then maybe I could come back, but it got really hard.”

The seven-lap race began at 6:30 a.m. in an attempt to beat the searing heat and humidity.

The air temperature during the latter stages of the race was 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 Celsius), with 74 per cent humidity that made it feel like 95 degrees (35 C).

The water temperature was about 84 degrees (29 C), under the allowable limit of 88 degrees (31 degrees C).

The Odaiba Marine Park course in Tokyo Bay featured a backdrop of skyscrapers, the Rainbow Bridge and the nearby floating Olympic rings.

Alice Dearing, the first Black female swimmer to represent Britain in the Olympics, finished 19th. She made news before the Games with her bid to wear an extra-large cap designed specifically for thick and curly hair.

FINA rejected the cap, citing no previous instances in which swimmers needed “caps of such size and configuration.”

Sign up for The Globe’s Olympic newsletter and follow all of the news, features and opinion in the Summer Games in Tokyo.