TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) -Ana Marcela Cunha of Brazil won gold in the women’s 10km marathon swimming race at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday, finishing the race a touch faster than the pack.
Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands, who was looking to defend her title from the 2016 Games in Rio, took silver with a finishing time less than a second behind Cunha, and Kareena Lee of Australia claimed bronze.
“I didn’t plan it to happen this way, but I’m extremely happy,” said Cunha, sporting a shock of fluorescent green and yellow hair perfectly colour coordinated with her Brazilian uniform.
Cunha has five individual world championship titles to her name but had failed to win any medals at the Olympic Games.
The swimmers cut through the water of Odaiba Marine Park, with clouds sitting low in a blue sky at times providing welcome shade from the blazing sun.
With barely any wind and little current, the race became a show of endurance and tactics in the warm water as temperatures rose.
German Leonie Beck was leading with one lap to go, until the athletes started fanning out to overtake one another, repositioning themselves for gold.
It was Cunha who powered to the front and swam the best line at a turn with just over a kilometre remaining, taking a lead that she refused to concede until the end.
“The water is quite warm, and I knew this would be a problem for people at the end” if they didn’t stay hydrated, said van Rouwendaal.
She tactically hung back earlier in the race, but could not catch up to Cunha in the last lap.
“It was more like a safe choice to maybe get the medal… I think it was my best result for hot water,” she said.
(Reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Michael Perry)