Sharon Van Rouwendaal
Sharon Van Rouwendaal is a Dutch swimmer that is known for her versatility in the water. Van Rouwendaal is 5’7″ and she focuses mostly on the longer freestyle and backstroke events, but she also is an Open Water swimmer – she surprised herself with her untapped talent in the event. Her group of sponsors includes both arena swimming and Crocs.
2008 was the beginning of Van Rouwendaal’s international career, when she broke the Dutch 1500m freestyle record, which had been held since 1984. A few months later, she broke her second record in the 400m IM at the French Open. After winning national titles the same year, she competed at the 2008 European Junior Championships, improved her record in the mile, and won four medals including a gold in the mile, and three silvers in the 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 800m freestyle.
Training in France
Although she is from the Netherlands, Van Rouwendaal has been training in France for some time, and has been with Coach Philippe Lucas since 2013. Van Rouwendaal left the Netherlands because of its sprint-friendly nature, which didn’t fit with her distance-swimmer mentality. In the Netherlands she didn’t feel that she had the training background to finish her races with power, and she claims that she began to lose trust in her coaching staff. The move worked, and she soon had two Dutch records under her belt. Van Rouwendaal enjoys more basic training with Lucas, and relies on instinct rather than filming and using scientific equipment.
Reigniting a distance tradition
The Netherlands is most-known for its sprinters, and the nation rarely has an renowned distance swimmer. Van Rouwendaal hopes to reignite a distance tradition in the Netherlands with her sucess, and pull away from its sprint culture. To prove her hopes to inspire distance swimmers, Van Rouwendaal broke the previous national record in the 1500m freestyle by half-a-minute, and is one of the only highly-ranked distance swimmers in her country.
From 2008 to 2010 Van Rouwendaal competed as a senior swimmer for the first time. She debuted at the 2008 European Short Course Championships in Rijeka, where she competed in the heats. Van Rouwendaal competed at her second European Junior Championships in Prague, this time winning gold in the 400m freestyle and a bronze medal in the 200m freestyle. The same year she competed at the 2009 European Short Course Championships, and she made it into the top eight of the 400m freestyle.
After her initial international breakout, Van Rouwendaal switched her focus. In 2010 she showed off her versatility at international competitions, including the European Championships, and she really began to develop her backstroke abilities. At the 2011 World Championships in Shanghai, Van Rouwendaal won a bronze medal in the 200m backstroke. And in 2012 she qualified for her first Olympic Games in 2012 in both backstroke distances.
At the 2014 European Swimming Championships she won four medals at the meet, including a medal in the Open Water events. In 2015 she was ranked as one of the fastest 400m freestyle swimmers in the world.
2015 World Championships
Van Rouwendaal entered the 2015 World Championships as a favorite to medal in the 400-meter free. She qualified 3rd out of prelims in the event, which was dominated by the no. 1 qualifier, United States’ Katie Ledecky. In prelims Van Rouwendaal swam the race pretty easily, just enough to qualify her in good position for the final. In the championship heat she swam the race differently, this time taking out the first half quick, and held an extremely steady pace through the rest of the event. She sat in 2nd place for the majority of the race, but the last 50 meters proved to be a testament. As it looked like Van Rouwendaal had the edge to finish 2nd, Australia’s Jessica Ashwood turned on the heat. Ashwood’s last 50 meters was completed in 29.64, nearly out-swimming Van Rouwendaal for 2nd, but Van Rouwendaal grabbed silver by .3 seconds. Although Ledecky was the only swimmer under 4:00, and four seconds ahead of everyone else in the field, the real entertainment was the battle for 2nd between Van Rouwendaal and Ashwood. The 3rd place finisher was even within .5 2nd place.
She also won silver medals in the 10km and team open water events, her first open water medals on an international stage.
2016 Olympic Games
In Rio, Van Rouwendaal finished 19th in the heats of the 400 free, and subsequently dropped out of the 800 free. However, in the 10km race, a relatively newer event for the swimming veteran, she won gold, touching over 17 seconds ahead of 2nd place.
2017 World Championships
In Budapest, Van Rouwendaal added to her open water medal count, nabbing a silver in the 25km race.
2018 European Championships
At the 2018 Euros, Van Rouwendaal found her way back on top of the open water podium, this time not only in the 10km, but also in the 5km and team open water events as well, and added a silver in the 25km.
2018 Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year
For her efforts at the 2018 European Championships, including 3 golds and a silver (every available open water event), Sharon Van Rouwendaal was SwimSwam’s 2018 Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year.