2017 FEMALE OPEN WATER SWIMMER OF THE YEAR: ANA MARCELA CUNHA
Ana Marcela Cunha has been a huge name on the international open water scene for nearly a decade, making her major international debut as a 16-year-old 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she finished 10th in the 10km. Since then, she has gathered multiple South American Games and world titles.
Rio in 2016 was a bit of disappointment for Cunha, who went into her home Olympic marathon 10k as a favorite, but came out 5th.
However, this year was the highlight of Cunha’s career thus far; she collected a perfect three individual medals at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest. Those three medals (gold in the 25k, bronze in the 5k, and a tied bronze in the 10k) brought Cunha to 9 career World Championships open water medals, tying her with Dutch legend Edith van Dijk for the most ever by a woman. Both swimmers have a career total of three FINA World Championships golds, two silvers, and four bronzes.
This is all particularly impressive given the adversity that Cunha has faced in the past year. She had her spleen removed just a few days after the 2016 Olympics and only returned to serious training in January. Then, just seven weeks before Worlds, Cunha switched coaches, returning to Fernando Possenti, who she had previously trained with between 2013 and 2015.
Cunha continued to impress after world championships this year, winning the 10k at Brazilian Open Water Championships and finishing sixth in the mixed-gender field, ahead of many of Brazil’s top male open water swimmers.
- Aurélie Muller – In one of the more controversial races of Rio 2016, Muller touched second was ultimately disqualified for obstructing third swimmer Rachele Bruni‘s finish in the Olympic 10k marathon swim (video here). This year in Budapest, Muller avenged her heartbreaking Rio swim by taking the 10k world title. Her finish this time around was both smooth and uncontroversial, a 2:00:13.7 that was three seconds ahead of second place. The swim resulted in Muller’s second-ever world title, defending her 10k win at the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan.