Greg Eggert, FINA Media Committee Honorary Secretary

Brazil's Ana Marcela Cunha captured her first world championship gold medal in the 5km, finally shaking herself free from the bronzing effect of the past decade. The Brazilian won in a time of 57:56.0, beating Aurelie Muller of France by exactly one second in a field of 54 swimmers in the 23.1-degree water of the Yeosu EXPO Ocean Park Open Water Swimming venue. Two years ago these professional swimmers, both regarded as among the best open water swimmers in the world, shared the same podium in Budapest. Muller was silver while the Brazilian finished just about a second behind in their last world championship battle.

In a photo finish for third place, the Omega timing equipment and the human eye declared that Hannah Moore of the USA and Germany's Leonie Beck were tied for bronze. The bronze medallists finished two seconds off Cunha's winning time, earning their first world championship medal for both.  

Cunha, known as a long haul open water specialist was pleased with her first victory today in open water's shortest event. Her world championships trophy case was expanded to include a fourth gold medal to go with the two silver and four bronze World Championship medals. Cunha has been dominant in the longest event on the world championship schedule. Prior to today's newly minted gold medal, Cunha's three pieces of gold were from victories in the 25km races in 2011 Shanghai, 2015 Kazan and 2017 Budapest. 

Photo by gettyimages

In the 5km event, Cunha's previous tally includes only bronze medals, one from Roberval in 2010, another earned in 2013 Barcelona and the most recent two years ago in Budapest 2017.  Also at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Cunha claimed a bronze medal in the 10km event, and became the three-time world champion with her victory in the 25km. Cunha raced in and medalled in every one of the three individual open water events held in the waters of Lake Balaton, the 5km, the 10km, and the 25km. Although she and her teammates didn't medal, Cunha was one of the four Brazilians that raced in the Mixed 5km Team. 

Cunha qualified for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, after placing tenth at the FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships in Seville, Spain which was an Olympic Qualification event. She was the youngest swimmer to participate in the inaugural women's Olympic Marathon 10km open water marathon, racing in a field of twenty-four other competitors, including her Brazilian teammate Poliana Okimoto. Cunha's impressive swim was 9.1 seconds behind the finish of the first ever Olympic Marathon 10km champion, and she finished two places ahead of Okimoto.  

In the lead-up to her country's home Olympic Games, Cunha was considered to be one of the favourites in the Olympic Marathon's 10km. She finished in 10th and attributed her disappointing performance to a lack of feeding along the course.  

Muller's open water career is lengthy and accomplished, and the 29-year-old hinted that she might soon be retiring after failing to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games, finishing outside of the top 10 in the 10km race contested on Sunday. More than ten years ago she qualified for the 2008 Summer Olympics after placing ninth in the FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships in Seville, Spain.  She finished 21st in the Beijing Olympic Marathon 10km, more than two minutes behind the Olympic Champion, Larisa Ilchenko of Russia.

At the 2011 FINA World Championships held in Shanghai, China, Muller out-touched Ashley Twichell of the USA to claim a silver medal in the 5km by a single tenth. She sought to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics in the 800m freestyle but fell short of the qualifying time. In the 2015 Kazan World Championships she won the 10km and earned her qualification to the 2016 Olympic Games. In Rio, she touched in second place but was disqualified for obstructing another swimmer at the finish. Twenty-seven years old at the 2017 Budapest World Championships she repeated her 10km title and with her French teammates, she earned a second gold medal in the Mixed Team Event.

Hannah Moore (USA) - Photo by gettyimages

The bronze medallists who stood together today are both on the rise. Germany's Beck earned two silver medals at the 2018 European Championships in Glasgow, in the 5km and also in the Team Event. She placed 25th in the 800m freestyle event at the 2016 Olympics. The 22-year-old improved on her 24th place finish in the 2017 edition held on Lake Balaton.  

The 22-year-old American swimmer won two events at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, the 200m backstroke and the 400m freestyle. She placed second in the 5km event at the USA Swimming Open Water Nationals. Moore owns a bronze medal from the 2017 World University Games in the 800m freestyle. She placed ninth at the 2018 French Nationals to earn a spot on the US team competing at the 2018 Pan Pacific Championships, and she was the third fastest American in the 10km event last summer in last summer’s Pac Pacs held in Tokyo.


Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA), gold:

“In the 10km, I finished and I really wasn't happy with that result. Today my strategy was to swim a bit more relaxed in the first half. I was behind the girls until the third lap when I started to move up. In the final lap, I just got myself to where I needed to be. In the 10km with so much pressure for Olympic Qualification the girls had a little more ‘fight’ in that race. I'm glad that today's race was more swimming and less fighting. Anyone can swim well in a 5km if they have done the training. It was not my best race but I'm happy with a medal. I want to tell you that I feel so badly for Aurelie (Muller) because she did not qualify for the Olympics in the 10km. I lost an Olympic qualification in 2011 and I believe I know how she feels. She is one of the best athletes here.”

Aurelie Muller (FRA), silver: 

“I'm feeling happy but it's not easy after the 10km. It was not easy, after I missed Olympic qualification. I swam today because my friend Lara (Grangeon) was in today's race and I wanted to be supportive. It’s hard to talk about this because today I swam a great race, I’m second and I’m thinking why I’m not going to swim in the Olympics. In the 5km, I made my run a little more hidden than on the 10km. And a bit happy for this race. It’s hard to come back like this, honestly I didn’t know if I could do it. I tried everything, I’m proud of myself. I figured maybe this would be my last race and I’d like to end up on something good, something positive. If it was my last race I did it well.”

Leonie Beck (GER), bronze: 

“I have been training very hard over the past two years and I am pleased with my race and my first world championship medal. We have been working on a lot of speed training so that I could have a powerful finish. Our German team is sharing the energy of our recent victories. We had two girls qualified for Tokyo in the 10km and yesterday the boys finished first and third, and also qualified for next summer’s Olympics.”

Hannah Moore (USA), bronze:

“This has by far exceeded my expectations. I really wanted to try and be top ten at my first world championships. This is my first international 5km so I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew it would be really rough, just based on watching the other races. The girls went out really fast, so I tried to stay calm and be a little braver than I wanted to be, and it worked out in the end. I really thought I was further back until the very last stretch when I started to see less and less people in front. I thought ‘Oh my gosh, I think I’m towards the front! There’s a shot!’ I just used my legs more than I really wanted to – it really hurt – but it paid off in the end. It was so fun! The open water team is amazing, and the staff is incredible, and the atmosphere and everyone really support each other. I’m really lucky to be here and honoured to share a bronze medal today. Watching Haley (Anderson) win a silver medal in the 10km and to see that she and Ashley (Twichell) both achieve the Olympic qualification in the 10km really fired me up and it's so inspiring. I just got into this sport last year and I’m kind of learning from them and watching them. It makes me want to continue on in the future and improve from here, so I have a lot to learn. My focus for the next year will be in the pool events and I will be trying to qualify for the US Olympic team.”