It's the Sharon show at the Copacabana

Dutch swimmer wins open-water marathon by 17sec, as France's Muller stripped of silver

Swimmers racing past the feeding sticks in the waters off Fort Copacabana during the 10km open-water marathon.
Swimmers racing past the feeding sticks in the waters off Fort Copacabana during the 10km open-water marathon. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE- PRESSE

RIO DE JANEIRO • Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands took gold on a day of controversy at the open-water women's 10km marathon swimming event, with French swimmer Aurelie Muller disqualified for unsportsmanlike conduct after finishing second.

Muller, the world champion last year, looked like she had snatched silver just ahead of Italy's Rachele Bruni, but was disqualified on review after she was adjudged to have, in her desperation, dunked the Italian to stop her touching the board first.

Bruni was promoted to the silver medal position and Poliana Okimoto was awarded the bronze, making her the first Brazilian to win a medal in the sport.

"We were side by side. Then when we were coming close to the touch she went over me, pushed me down with her arm on my shoulder and so I wasn't able to touch the finishing board," Bruni said after the race. "Yes, the disqualification was justified because it's not in the rules that she should be able to do that."

Britain's Keri-Anne Payne, who was bumped up to seventh place, had more sympathy for Miller.

"To be disqualified in the last bit of the race, especially when you've won a medal, is heartbreaking. I can't even imagine how the French girl is feeling," she said.

Philippe Lucas, Muller's coach, told France's RMC Sport afterwards: "This is the worst scenario that can happen. I have not seen the images. I found that the decision was made very quickly anyway.

"In sport, there is always injustice unfortunately. It's like that.

"But it's not worth crying for 50 years. The podium is made, it's dead. It's over."

Rouwendaal, who clocked 1hr 56min 32.1sec at Fort Copacabana, came in 17 seconds ahead of her nearest rival, saying she surprised herself by her margin of victory.

"If you would have asked me before the race, I would have never dreamed I would win by 17 seconds," the 22-year-old added.

"This year has been really difficult for me because I had a shoulder injury, shoulder problems... In this race I felt so easy and I just tried to sprint at the six-kilometre mark and then continue.

"The last 400 metres I knew I was going to win because I was watching. I couldn't swim without watching. And the last 100 felt so amazing."

The open-water competition venue was another talking point as it suffered another disaster on Saturday. The starting platform was destroyed by strong currents 48 hours before the start of competition.

With no time to replace it, the field of 26 strode across the sand, waded into the surf and swam out to the starting marker. This despite Fina's open-water rules stipulating that races "must start with athletes jumping into the water from a fixed platform, above water level".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2016, with the headline 'It's the Sharon show at the Copacabana'. Print Edition | Subscribe