2019 Open Water Female Swimmer of the Year: Ana Marcela Cunha, Brazil
The world’s best female open water swimmer came very close to not qualifying, at least not yet, for the Olympic Games in the 10km marathon swimming event. Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha finished 5th at the 2019 World Championships in the 10km event, with the top 10 automatically qualifying for Tokyo. A tight finish saw swimmers in 5th-11th places separated by just 7-tenths of a second, and that’s how close Cunha was to missing an automatic bid to Tokyo.
But the 27-year old Cunha reaffirmed in 2019 her status as the sport’s best. She won the other 2 individual open water races at the World Championships, the 5km and 25km events. Not only was she the only woman to place in the top 5 of all 3 of those events, she was one of only 8 women to even attempt the triple across 6 days of racing, culminating with the grueling 5-hour 25km race.
Cunha also won 5 of the 9 races in the FINA Marathon Swimming World Series in 2019, and finished 2nd in the other 2 races. That means that of the 7 races in which she participated, she finished in 1st or 2nd place in all of them.
She also won the Pan American Games gold medal in the 10km swim – her first Pan American Games gold medal.
The women’s 10km event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will be one of the best swimming races of the event, with a deep field of stars emerging including Xin Xin of China, Haley Anderson of the United States, Rachele Bruni of Italy, and pool convert Lara Grangeon of France, but to count out Cunha because she missed the podium in Gwangju would be a mistake.
This is Cunha’s 3rd Swammy award, after having won this same honor in both 2015 and 2017. That ties her with Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands as a 3-time winner of Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year.
- Xin Xin, China: The 23-year old’s first major international medal was gold this summer in the 10km race, which propelled her from contender to possible favorite in Tokyo after finishing in 4th place at the 2016 Olympics. China does not have a strong pedigree in open water, particularly as compared to their success in pool swimming, but a few of a deep and young group of pool distance swimmers this decade have begun to flake off and move in to the open water world, led by Xin Xin.
- Rachele Bruni, Italy: Bruni took bronze in the 10km race at the 2019 World Championships and was also the season winner of the FINA Marathon Swimming World Series. That’s in spite of winning only 1 race: her consistency (and more importantly presence) across the whole series took the title.