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Sharon Van Rouwendaal from Netherlands swam her way to gold on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, with Italy's Rachele Bruni taking silver and Brazil's Poliana Okimoto bronze.
22-year-old van Rouwendaal displayed her speed, stamina and versatility to achieve an emphatic victory in the 10km open water swimming. She swam nearly half the distance solo after breaking away from the leader group around the 6km mark. The Dutch swimmer won by a huge 17.4 seconds margin over the rest of the field.
“If you would have asked me before the race, I would have never dreamed I would win by 17 seconds. I knew the last 100m I could finish strong but I don’t like the feeling of being in front. I was swimming so easily at the beginning. There were like six of us swimming together, watching each other. I was watching all the time to see if they were going to catch me,” van Rouwendaal said.
Since focusing on longer distances and open water competitions, she won the 2014 European championship in 10km and came second in the discipline at the 2015 world championships in Kazan. The 400m freestyle world championship silver medallist also swam 400m and 800m freestyle in Rio before conquering the waves of Copacabana.
She said: “Five years ago, I got bronze at the world championships but on the 200m backstroke. The last three years I have been swimming freestyle, trying open water in 2014. This year I wanted to go fast in the 400, but I knew with the problems I had with the shoulders, I missed a lot of power to go fast. I knew the 10km, I could do something but after this year I was thinking it is going to be really hard. I surprised myself in the race how easy I was swimming."
Aurelie Muller from France finished second, but judges ruled that she had pushed Italy’s Rachele Bruni’s arm down to stop her touching the board at the end. The French swimmer was disqualified as a result. The battle for silver between Muller and Bruni was reminiscent of their extraordinary duel at this summer’s European championships, when they ended up in a dead heat for gold.
Poliana Okimoto from Brazil went from fourth place to the podium as a result. She said: “I wasn’t frustrated, but the fourth place is not a very rewarding one. This was everything to me. And I left in the sea the last drop of sweat that I had. When heard I actually came third I was very moved because winning a medal in Brazil was everything that I wanted. It was a dream come true.”