Greg Eggert, FINA Media Committee member

Ashley Twichell took a commanding lead in the final sprint of the women's 5km event to earn the first gold medal of the FINA World Championships for the USA; her winning time was 59.07.0. Aurelie Muller of France finished 3.5 seconds behind the new world champion to collect the silver medal. Muller was Sunday's champion in the 10km race. Brazil's Ana Marcela Cunha was declared the bronze medallist after a brief review of the events "photo finish". Cunha earned her second bronze medal of the world championships, having tied for bronze in the 10km. Cunha owns a bronze medal from the 5km and also a silver in the 10km at the 2013 Barcelona World Championships. The versatile Brazilian owns world championship titles in the 25km events in the Shanghai 2011 and the Kazan 2015 editions.

If you took a photo of the race start, it would be regarded as a "Nikon Moment": It would be a breath-taking image, the snapshot of 58 female contenders standing beside their nation's flag, each outfitting in their technical swimwear. Seconds away from their entry into the 24 degree waters of Lake Balaton the swimmers, some confidently and others nervously awaiting today’s 5 kilometre race were each basking in the bright sunlight that was reflecting off Central Europe's largest body of freshwater. At the race start, the air temperature was 28 degrees, much warmer than the previous days.

Haley Anderson of the USA immediately took charge of the 58 swimmers for the open water sprint, the shortest event on the FINA open water swimming programme. Joining her in race leadership was her American teammate Ashley Twichell. Leonie Beck of Germany found a small plot of open water adjacent and sometimes swam in between the two athletes from the USA.  

Touching for victory - Photo by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia

Aurelie Muller of France who won the women's 10km swam to the far right of the lead pack making her breakaway. Almost none of the other swimmers followed her but the course she charted paid off, she took a nearly 10m lead employing that strategy. The French swimmer covered the first 1500m in 18:37.5 with the USA teammates Twichell trailing 7.9 second behind and Anderson 10.2 seconds behind the leader. Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands, the 2016 Olympic Champion was within a few metres of the leaders.

Approaching the midpoint of the race, 11 swimmers were lined up in single file like ducklings following the mother duck. France's Muller was the mother duck in this scenario, her time of 30.38.9 for the first 2500m. USA's Twichell was only 1.4 seconds behind Muller followed by Dutch champion van Rouwendaal at plus 2.9 seconds. USA's Anderson, the winner of this event in 2013 Barcelona and 2015 Kazan, was not far off their pace. 

Muller continued her race leadership, steady and strong, almost effortless in the sometimes choppy waters of Balaton as the lake is known to the local population. The strong wind at the start had dissipated offering the French swimmer one less challenge ahead of her, but still fully aware that 57 challengers were still trailing behind her.  

At the 3500 metre mark Olympic champion van Rouwendaal overtook Muller, the new leader's time was 42.53.1. Muller was just 2.6 seconds behind. Italian swimmer Giulia Gabbrielleschi was just a tenth behind the French swimmer.

With 1000m to USA's Twichell executed her sprint, having covered the first 4000m in 48.20.5.  Muller just .4 of a second off her shoulder. Italy's Gaabrielleschi was a fair distance behind the leaders, 5.4 seconds off the American's pace.

The final sprint was under the command of Twichell who continued to build her lead over the challengers. With only 500 metres to go it was obvious that Twichell would win the race and the four athletes in the challengers’ pack were fighting for their own spot on the medals podium. Twichell captured the USA's first gold medal of the FINA World Championships finishing the 5km race in 59.07.0. Aurelie Muller finished second, 3.5 seconds behind the American to earn her second medal of the championships, a shiny silver to be paired with her gold medal in the women's 10km.  

The women's 5km podium - Photo by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia

The battle for the third spot on the podium was initially declared a photo finish by the Omega timekeepers. Within a few minutes of review of the video feed of the cameras positioned overhead the touchpad the referee declared that Ana Marcela Cunha was the bronze medallist. The Brazilian added her second bronze medal of the FINA championships to her trophy case. Cunha tied for third in the 10km race which was won by Muller, today's silver medallist.

QUOTES

Women’s 5km

Ashley Twichell (USA), gold

“I felt in the morning that I was in a good shape, and I chose a good tactic, I took the lead in the right time. I knew there was a big fight in the water behind me, but I managed to avoid that. I expect a very exciting race tomorrow in the relay event”.

Aurelie Muller (FRA), silver

“The 10k on Sunday was of course very tough, so I was a little tired after that, but I had time for recovery, and I had a good race again. I did not realise that Sharon (van Rouwendaal) was complaining about me, all I tried to do was concentrating on my finish, and swimming as fast as I could. The French team is very strong, so I expect a good result in the relay as well, but it won’t be easy, since there are many other strong teams, too".

Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA), bronze

“I am very happy to finish on the podium again, beating the reigning Olympic champion (Sharon van Rouwendaal, who finished fourth after the photo finish) is really great. I will compete in the relay event and in the 25km as well, and I hope to achieve some more good results. The relay event is fun for everyone, although it will be a very tough race. I changed the colour of my hair for fun, and I plan to change to another colour for the 25km, but it will be a surprise”.