Haley Anderson competes in the women's 10-kilometer marathon swimming at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Fort Copacabana on Aug. 15, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.
RIO DE JANEIRO — Four years ago, Haley Anderson missed an Olympic gold medal in the 10-kilometer open water swim by 0.4 seconds, taking home silver instead.
In Rio, she missed it by 48.1 seconds, finishing in fifth place.
Sharon van Rouwendaal from the Netherlands — the runner-up at the 2015 world championships — surged in the final lap and won the Olympic gold medal in 1:56:32.1. Italy’s Rachele Bruni finished second for the silver medal in 1:56:49.5. And Brazil won its first Olympic medal in women’s swimming, with 2013 world champion Poliana Okimoto taking third in 1:56:51.4.
Reigning world champion Aurelie Muller from France finished 16.6 seconds behind van Rouwendaal in silver-medal position but was disqualified, reportedly for pushing.
Battling ocean swells, Anderson swam into fifth at the halfway point. But on the third (of four) laps in the ocean waters off Rio’s Copacabana Beach, the 24-year-old swimmer was not in the right place when van Rouwendaal surged. She fell 16 seconds behind the leaders.
“I just didn’t set myself up like I wanted to going into the fourth lap,” she said. “I kind of expected that. Everybody is fighting for those top three spots. So you had to tough it out. But I just fell behind.”
By the finish, Anderson had dropped more time but passed swimmers ahead of her to finish fifth.
“I did have a lot left,” Anderson said. “I was passing people a lot in that last lap, just was a little too far behind and didn’t make my move soon enough.”
Open water was introduced to the Olympic Games in 2008, and this is the first time since then that it’s been held in the ocean. The only other time Olympic swimming has been held in the ocean was 1896. (That year, the water temperature was 55 degrees Fahrenheit and in the longest race [1,200 meters], the winner, Hungary’s Alfréd Hajós, declared, "My will to live completely overcame my desire to win.")
Inspired by her sister Alyssa’s Olympic gold medal that she had won in the pool (in the 4x200-meter freestyle), Haley swam to a silver medal in the Serpentine in London’s Hyde Park.
The men compete tomorrow in open water. Jordan Wilimovsky and Sean Ryan will swim for Team USA. They finished first and fourth, respectively, at the 2015 world championships. Wilimovsky finished fourth in the men’s 1,500-meter freestyle in the pool on Saturday night.
Anderson’s advice to them?
“Just be tough,” she said. “Never doubt yourself. Open water a 10k is super mental. It’s almost more mental than it is physical. So it’s really important to just be positive, positive self-talk the whole time, and you’re ahead.”
A freelance writer based in Vermont, Peggy Shinn is in Rio covering her fourth Olympic Games. She has contributed to TeamUSA.org since its inception in 2008.