2023 Pan American Games
- Oct. 29, 2023
- Open water swimming
- Laguna Los Morros
- San Bernardo, Chile
Seventeen months after giving birth, Ashley Twichell stamped her comeback with a 10-kilometer victory over reigning Olympic champion Ana Marcela Cunha at the 2023 Pan American Games on Sunday in San Bernardo, Chile.
Twichell, a 34-year-old American, beat Cunha by 13 seconds with a winning time of 1:57:16.4, earning a second Pan Ams medal 12 years after taking silver in the 800 freestyle at the 2011 edition of the meet. Cunha, the 2019 Pan Ams champion in this event, claimed silver in 1:57:29.4 ahead of fellow Brazilian Viviane Jungblut (1:57:51.1).
“It felt good,” said Twichell, who placed 7th in the 10 km at her Olympic debut in Tokyo, where she was the oldest (age 32) American swimmer and the oldest U.S. first-timer at an Olympics since 1908. “It was pretty relaxed the first 5k, which was really nice, especially with it being a small field, and then I noticed people were trying to catch back up to us to try and push us a bit on the sixth and seventh lap.
“I felt the push, then kind of fall back, then push, kind of fall back,” Twichell. “I should have just decided earlier [what to do]. It’s so hard in a 10k, you don’t know how much you’re going to have. I try not to look behind me too much, but I did feel like for a little bit there was a bit of a gap.”
Twichell gave birth to her son, Lochlan, last May. She initially said she expected to retire after the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, but she returned to competition at age 33 this summer and qualified for Pan Ams at the 2023 Open Water National Championships with a 4th-place finish. The comeback earned her a nomination for the Golden Goggles’ Perseverance Award that will be announced on Nov. 19.
“I feel like I have a different perspective,” Twichell said. “I feel like I’m trying to enjoy every race, especially ones like this where I’m away from my son, I want to make the most of it so just really trying to have fun, see where it goes, and taking it day by day.”
Some of Twichell’s other open water accolades include winning the 5 km team open water race at the 2011 World Championships, and winning the 5 km individual open water race at the 2017 World Championships. Also an accomplished pool swimmer, she took silver in the 800 free at the 2016 Short Course World Championships. At the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2021, Twichell placed fifth in the 1500 free and eighth in the 400 free. She swam collegiately for Duke from 2008-11, qualifying to swim the 1650 free at the NCAA Championships in all four years of her career. Her highest finish was 5th place in 2011.
Top 5 Women’s 10k Finishers:
- Ashley Twichell (USA) – 1:57:16.4
- Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA) – 1:57:29.4
- Viviane Jungblut (BRA) – 1:57:51.1
- Cecilia Biagioli (ARG) – 1:58.09.7
- Leah DeGeorge (USA) – 1:58:54.7
It was a sweep of the open water events for Team USA at the 2023 Pan American Games. Brennan Gravley won the men’s event at the finish, touching just 0.2 seconds ahead of runner-up Franco Cassini of Argentina.
Top 5 Finishers:
- Brennan Gravley (USA) – 1:50:23.4
- Franco Cassini (ARG) – 1:50:23.6
- Paulo Strehlke Delgado (MEX) – 1:50:23.8
- Dylan Gravley (USA) – 1:50:26.8
- Joaquin Moreno Muñoz (ARG) – 1:50:34.4
Unlike the women’s race, which was dominated by veterans, the men’s podium were all first-time Pan Ams medalists. It was also an extremely tight race, with the difference between 1st and 3rd only 0.4 seconds.
Brennan Gravley led the way, picking up his first international medal of his career. He just wrapped up a collegiate career at the University of Florida last spring. In high school, Gravley trained with the Sandpipers of Nevada, notably the club team of Katie Grimes, who became the first American athlete to qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Team courtesy of her 3rd-place finish in the 10km at 2023 Worlds.
Close behind was Argentina’s Franco Cassini, and just 0.2 seconds behind him was Mexico’s Paulo Strehlke Delgado.
Gravley’s younger brother, Dylan, ended up just off the podium in 4th after being passed in the last quarter of the race.