The world plunged into confinement in 2020. Sport, one of the human activities that most needs interaction, has suffered and still suffers from the requirement to be reclusive. But, with relatively individual sports perhaps at an advantage, open water swimming champion Ana Marcela Cunha found ways in mind and body to keep afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic and has seized the opportunity to return to competition.
“Sailing is necessary and swimming too!”
In the most difficult phase of the pandemic in Brazil, in the middle of this year, Ana wrote on social media a text parodying the poem ‘Sailing is necessary’ by the celebrated Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa. She wrote: “Sailing is necessary and swimming too! In this moment of isolation, the head is filled with thoughts, but little by little I realise that we have to respect ourselves. Understand that each day is a different day. We must allow ourselves new things, learning and what we think we should have. Surf as your own wave wants to take you. Swim too!”
Ana adapted to the new reality by ‘swimming in the dry’, thanks to the equipment that helps to imitate movements in her club, Unisanta, in the Brazilian city of Santos, training always alongside her partner, international water polo player Diana Abla.
Cunha (BRA) at the Gwangju 2019 FINA World Championships ©Getty Images
Cunha, five times a world champion, returned to regular training in August, in Europe. The “Europa Mission” is an initiative by the Brazilian Olympic Committee in partnership with the Brazilian Swimming Federation to get Brazilian athletes back into action after the period of social isolation
Beating the men at Capri
Her first competition after seven reclusive months was the Capri-Napoli marathon in early September. Ana was second in a unique female one-two in a race open to both men and women. The race marked the return of an aquatic marathon season interrupted by COVID-19. And the return was intense: 36 kilometres on the Capri-Napoli crossing, more than six hours swimming in the sea.
Cunha, six times FINA Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year, finished in 6:04:27, lowering her personal best in the race by 20 minutes. But in a very tough tussle with the Italian Arianna Bridi, she ended up missing the gold by a second at the touch. Bridi’s 6:04:26 was a record for the race, with Cunha also inside the previous best. Six women and nine men took part this time.
“It was one of the strongest races I’ve ever swum. The first time in the history of the competition in which two women arrive in front of men, both holding medals from the World Championships,” Cunha said.
Ana also ends with a message left to fans who follow her in this virtual world:
“In difficult times we have to value the simplest things like the immensity of the sea and the freedom it provides. Swimming is letting your body feel the sensation and being able to forget about any problem you have.”