Haley Anderson and Ashley Twichell prepare to compete in the women's 10km marathon swimming at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 4, 2021 in Tokyo.
TOKYO — Leading into the last swimming event for the women in Tokyo, the hot and steamy weather was being felt on the ground — and in the water. The open water marathon took place at Odaiba Beach with water temperatures in the mid-80s, exceptionally hot for what an open water swimmer is used to.
Dealing with the heat were Team USA’s Haley Anderson and Ashley Twichell, with both completing the endurance swim with impressive top 10-finishes.
“Yeah, well, we knew coming in that it was going to be pretty warm, and, well, it is what it is,” Anderson said. “Everyone was dealing with the same conditions, but it’s nice that we had some clouds, that definitely helped. The U.S. [heat limit] is a little different than the FINA limit but, umm, yeah, it was within range, and we definitely tried to prepare as well as we could for the heat and the weather and try to put ourselves in a good position coming in.”
Out of the 25 swimmers who lined up for the 10km race, it was three-time Olympian Anderson who was the last one to jump off the platform, opting not to get caught up in the “splash and dash.” The 2012 silver medalist — who was the first American to earn an Olympic medal in the sport — knew from experience that she would have time to come back over the impending seven laps.
After almost qualifying in two of the more familiar indoor pool events, her sprint finishes is something she has become known for. At the 2020 Olympic Team Trials – Swimming, she was just out-touched in the 800m, missing an Olympic qualifying spot by 0.15 seconds. She also went on to finish fourth in the 1500m.
The 29-year-old was one of the first athletes to qualify for Tokyo when she finished second in the 10km race at the 2019 open water world championships. Her slow start in Tokyo eventually saw her keeping a steady pace near the front of the pack where she hung around sixth place for most the of the race.
Her teammate and first-time Olympian Twichell instead opted to get out fast, leading for most of the race. Forgoing most of the hydration stations, Twichell’s strategy seemed to be working until the second to last lap where she was taken over and quickly dropped to fourth.
“In the back end of the first lap, I got caught right in the middle of a pack, and from then, I knew that’s not where I wanted to be for the race,” Twichell said. “So I found myself in the lead, that’s where I’m most comfortable swimming open water, that’s where I’ve always been most comfortable. I felt really strong.”
Her sixth place finish at world championships landed her a spot on her first Olympic team, having tried unsuccessfully in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
In the final lap after almost two hours of swimming, the pace quickened and the two Americans did their best to keep up. Coming into the last meters, with the sun in their eyes and a medal within their grasp they touched just shy of the podium with Anderson coming in sixth and Twichell just behind in seventh.
“I knew there was a big pack behind me for most of the way, and that last lap, I knew there were seven of us, and it was tough,” Twichell said. “It was great to see Haley right there, too. Of course, I would have loved to have medaled, but I’m proud of the fight I had out there today.”
Brazil’s Ana Marcela Cunha touched first with a time of 1:59:30.8, earning her country’s first gold medal in open water swimming. Right behind her was The Netherland’s Sharon van Rouwendaal who took gold in Rio. Australia’s Kareena Lee rounded out the podium with the bronze.
Tomorrow will officially close the chapter on swimming at the Tokyo Games when the men compete in the 10km open water swim. Team USA’s Jordan Wilimovsky will be looking to medal.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.