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Gold medalist Ana Marcela Cunha of Team Brazil poses after the Women's 10km Marathon Swimming on day twelve of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Odaiba Marine Park on August 04, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images.
Gold medalist Ana Marcela Cunha of Team Brazil poses after the Women's 10km Marathon Swimming on day twelve of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Odaiba Marine Park on August 04, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images.

Third time’s the charm as Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha takes home gold in women’s 10k marathon swim

The Brazilian debuted at 16-years-old in 2008, and added the final piece to her legendary status in distance swimming with a gold in Tokyo.

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It was a nail-biter down to the wire in the women’s 10k marathon swim at Tokyo 2020.

The race, which was seven laps in Tokyo Bay, started at 6:30 a.m. (Japan time) to avoid a potential heat wave.

In the end, Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha came out on top by nine-tenths of a second before previous gold medalist, Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands.

Third place went to Australia’s Kareena Lee, who finished eight-tenths of a second behind van Rouwendaal.

All swimmers in the top three finished the marathon race just below the two-hour mark at 1:59.30.8, 1:59.31.7 and 1:59.32.5.

For Cunha, the triumph comes at her third time of asking in the 10k women’s marathon swim. It also comes after 13 years of trying.

She has participated in the Olympic sport since its debut at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That year was also Cunha’s first Olympic games at 16-years-old, where she finished 10th in the race and was the youngest swimmer to participate in the inaugural event.

According to ESPN, her first games also left her “dazzled” by meeting now-legendary athletes and Olympians Michael Phelps and Kobe Bryant.

Cunha didn’t qualify for the 2012 London marathon swim and again, finished in 10th at the race in her home country’s 2016 Rio games.

Despite her Olympic futility in that time, the Brazilian long-distance swimmer still racked up an impressive medal cabinet for her performances at world and South American championships at different distances.

Cunha won her first medals at the 2010 South American Games in Medellín, where she took home the gold in the 5k marathon and silver in the 10k.

In 2011, Cunha won her first world championship with the 25k women’s race at the International Swimming Championships in Shanghai. She would repeat that success at 25k at later world championships in 2015 and 2017. 

In total, she has 11 medals in all distance swimming competitions, making her not only the most decorated Brazilian open-water swimmer in history, but also one of the best ever in the sport’s history.

With the gold in Tokyo, that number goes to 12.

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