Greg Eggert, FINA Media Committee member

Sharon van Rouwendaal of The Netherlands dominated today's 10km Olympic Marathon held at Copacabana Beach crushing her opponents by more than 17 seconds to win a second Olympic Gold medal in open water for the tiny but powerful swimming nation. Italy's Rachelle Bruni had initially slapped the touchpad in third place behind France's Aurelie Muller. However Muller was disqualified by the referee for swimming over Bruni at the finish line. Poliana Okimoto (BRA) who initially thought she had finished outside of the medals found herself on the podium for the Olympic bronze medal due to the disqualification of the French swimmer.  

"Today in this race it felt so easy" said the Dutch swimmer. "I never dreamed that I would win by 17 seconds. I have steadily been recovering from a shoulder injury."

The newest Olympic champion competed in the 400m freestyle last week finishing 19th place, more than 12 seconds behind the new Olympic record set by USA's Katie Ledecky. "I wanted to go fast in the 400m freestyle events last week but with my shoulder injury I thought that I had less power. Although I feel strong I may have lost some confidence due to my injury."

"I was leading the race for about 40 minutes and I was continually looking back to see where the others were. After the final turn I looked back and I saw a blue cap and then I saw a black cap and then I saw a white cap. It's a terrible feeling when you have to constantly look back to see if anyone is catching you. I surprised myself with how easy it had been today" offered van Rouwendaal (NED).

While a pool swimmer van Rouwendaal finished third at the 2011 Shanghai World Championships in the 200m backstroke. As a member of the 4x100m medley relay at the 2012 London Olympic Games she and her teammates established a new Dutch national record with their 6th place finish. Her shoulder injury kept her out of the 2013 World Championships. In Kazan last summer van Rouwendaal earned a silver medal while setting a new national record, but finishing second again to Ledecky. Also in Kazan she broke her own national record in the 800m freestyle heats and again in the championship final finishing in 8th place.

Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED) - Photo by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia

In 2008, Maarten Van Der Weijden (NED) won the inaugural men's Olympic Marathon at the Beijing Olympic Games. With van Rouwendaal's victory today, the Netherlands becomes the first nation to win both the men's and the women's Olympic Gold medals in the Olympic Marathon event.  

Italy's Bruni finished 4th in the10km at the Kazan world championships. Earlier this year, she won the 10km and also the 5km Team Event at the European Championships in Hoorn (NED). The 25-year-old Bruni becomes the second Italian open water Olympic medallist following Martina Grimaldi (ITA) who earned a bronze medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Bruni recalled today's finish this way: "I was swimming in a great place and having a great race. We were swimming side-by-side when my French competitor pushed me down under the water preventing me from making my touch. I thought she was also swimming a great race and I believe that she would have swam for a bronze medal."  

The disqualified Muller finished 21st in the inaugural open water race in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but missed the London Olympic Games. She was also the gold medallist at the 2015 Worlds in Kazan.

Brazil's bronze medallist Okimoto, 33 years of age, had competed in the inaugural Beijing Olympic Games finishing in 7th place and also at the 2012 London Olympics. Okimoto withdrew from the Olympic Marathon due to hypothermia, fainted shortly thereafter and was treated in the hospital.

Last summer, Okimoto finished 6th in the 10km in Kazan. She was the world champion for this distance at the 2013 World Championships. Okimoto also collected a silver medal in the 5km and a bronze medal in the 5km Team Event in Barcelona in 2013.

Today she revealed that she was afraid of the ocean at a young age: "It's true that I was scared to swim in the ocean. My first open water race was here at Copacabana Beach in 2005 but I was not sure I would get into the water. The day the competition arrived the adrenaline help me to be comfortable with swimming in the sea. In 2005 I learned at the Olympic marathon would be included in the Olympic programme for Beijing.”

"I have competed in three Olympics and in three different courses. Swimming in the sea is completely unpredictable and it is impossible to anticipate. We only knew over the last few days what the conditions might be like at Copacabana Beach. I hope that I will never stop swimming in the sea because some of my best results are in races held in the ocean."

"I actually thought I had placed fourth and I was satisfied with that-place and that result. I wasn't frustrated although it's not very rewarding. I knew that was the best I could do in the race. I knew that I had left the last drop of sweat I had in the ocean.”

“I was very moved when I learned that I would be a bronze medallist. It was a dream come true for me.”

Any doubts about Copacabana beach hosting the world's best open water swimmers for the Olympic Swim Marathon were erased at dawn this morning. A photograph taken this morning would be identical to the postcards sold in the kiosks at one of the 63 hotels overlooking the beach named for the Virgen de Copacabana, the patron saint of Bolivia.

The medallists in Copacabana - Photo by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia

Brazil's hopes for a podium finish in the Olympic Swimming Marathon began in an encouraging way when Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA) led the pack of 26 swimmers though the first lap in 30:51.6 followed closely by teammate Okimoto (BRA) and van Rouwendaal (NED). Cunha was the bronze medallist in last summer's 10km event and also the 25km champion in Kazan. The Brazilian was racing with hope of the first Olympic swimming medal in Rio as the pool team left empty handed. Seventeen year old Chelsea Gubecka (AUS) was just another tenth of a second behind with Michelle Weber (RSA) only 2.2 seconds behind the Brazilian leader. Three yellow cards were issued in the first lap warning swimmer that intentional physical contact would not be tolerated.

Cunha dropped back allowing the defending world champion Muller (FRA), Kazan's silver medalist Van Rouwendaal (NED) and 2012 Olympic champion Eva Ristov (HUN) to lead a smaller pack though the second lap. Muller was first through the midpoint at 1:00.59.3, maintaining the same relaxed pace that Cunha set for the initial lap.  
The Dutch swimmer made her move at the start of the third lap passing through the gate in first position at 1:29.29.5 while setting a faster pace and hoping to put greater distance between those following her. The 22 year old van Rouwendaal was already ahead of Rachele Bruni (ITA) and Okimoto (BRA) who were about 3.9 and 5.0 seconds behind. Not far behind were Xin Xin (CHN) and Ristov (HUN) as the four trailing athletes swam in a straight line following the Dutch swimmer, each hoping to have the energy to sprint past one another when the timing was right.
The Olympic champion revealed some of her race strategy. "I was swimming at the back in the first lap. I did take a feeding on the first and the second lap but I skipped feeding on the third round.”

“I always like to sprint before I take a feeding so that I can take my time when I drink.”

“I don't like all the physical contact in open water swimming. I believe that I'm a fast swimmer and I'm always trying to swim on the side away from the group. I try to stay away from contact with others and I'm really a happy person when I can find open water", said van Rouwendaal (NED).

The defending Olympic champion Eva Risztov (HUN) finished in 13th place more than a minute behind the Dutch Olympic Champion. Brazil's Cunha finished in 10th place, 56.9 seconds from the winner. Bronze medallist Okimoto becomes the first female to win a swimming medal for her country. All 13 previous Olympic medals in swimming were won by men.

USA's Haley Anderson, the 2012 Olympic silver medallist finished in 5th place, 48.1 seconds behind the winner.


Gold: Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED), 1:56:32.1
Silver: Rachele Bruni (ITA), 1:56:49.5
Bronze: Poliana Okimoto (BRA), 1:56:51.4

JURY OF APPEAL:  The French Swimming Federation has protested the disqualification of Aurelie Muller (FRA).  Their appeal was rejected by FINA's Jury of Appeal.