When you associate “open water” and “Brazil”, the inevitable result is Ana Marcela Cunha. With six medals (two of each colour) at the FINA World Championships since 2011, plus a bronze from the 2010 FINA World Open Water Swimming Championships – a competition that is no longer in the FINA calendar -, the Brazilian champion is also a shining star in the annual circuit of the FINA 10km Marathon Swimming World Cup. After her third place at the Abu Dhabi rendezvous, FINA wanted to know what’s in her mind before the upcoming Rio 2016 Olympic Games, where she will swim at home and is certainly the hope of an entire country for a medal in the 10km marathon swimming race.

“Pressure? We can see it two ways: yes, it’s a pressure, or no, it’s a motivation. I choose the second option. We are a country of over 200 million people. They will be all pushing us towards the victory! And it’s very nice to know that”, declares a smiling Ana Marcela in an exclusive interview with FINA. “I’m not afraid of the media, or any other thing. We are preparing in the right way and we have all the reasons to think that this work will be fruitful”, she adds.

Elected “FINA Best Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year” in two consecutive occasions (2014 and 2015), Ana Marcela prefers to talk about what there is still to come. “Well, the 2015 award refers to last year. Now, I would need to get the Olympic title… I believe that would give me the title for 2016…” she jokes.

Ana Marcela Cunha (far right), after receiving her bronze medal in Abu Dhabi - Photo by Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia

After three podium presences at the FINA World Championships in Kazan (RUS) last summer – gold in the 25km, silver in the team event and bronze in the 10km -, the focus is on the Copacabana beach waters, where the Olympic competition will take place. “I like the conditions there. I’ve swum many times in Copacabana since 2004 and I find the conditions good. I never had problems there. Some say the water could be cold, but this is not a problem for me – I like that, it’s even better for my performances”, she confesses.

Ana Marcela is in her third Games’ cycle, after Beijing 2008 and London 2012. For the Chinese capital, the Brazilian ace – she is from São Paulo – had qualified for the inaugural Olympic rendezvous in 10km and concluded the decisive race in fifth position. Four years ago, the story was different: ranked 11th at the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai (CHN), one spot behind the direct qualification, Ana Marcela then skipped the only opportunity to get her Olympic ticket, in Portugal. Now, the situation is solved since Kazan and the trajectory in the latest years leaves no doubt: Cunha is one of the swimmers to carefully watch in Rio.

“I came back to my first coach this year and we are getting used to new methods. This was my first 2016 event and the results are visible”, says Ana Marcela, who started the season with 16 victories (curiously the same number than her teammate Poliana Okimoto, another icon of Brazil’s open water and slightly better than her in UAE) in the World Cup series, since 2008. Moreover, in 2010, 2012 and 2014 she was the overall winner of the circuit. “The race in Abu Dhabi was very strong as eight of the best 10 in Kazan were swimming here”, she highlights.

In Rio, she doesn’t think it will be that different. “No one will facilitate the life to the others. Muller [Aurélie, from France, winner in Abu Dhabi and 2015 world champion in 10km] seems to have a slight advantage, but it may not mean a lot during the Games”, she admits. Finally, on the tactics to be successful at home, Cunha – who swims around 70km per week - is clear: “Each race is different. I adapt my strategy during the race, according with the performances of the other athletes”.