As the FINA Swimming World Cup ended last week with overall champions Beata Nelson (USA) and Dylan Carter (TTO) raking in the cash prizes, the attention of the swimming universe diverts to the Marathon World Series, which concludes this weekend in Eilat, Israel.

With this being the final stop, the overall points title is up for grabs with Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA) and Sharon Van Rouwendaal (NED) currently tied for the top women’s spot thus far. On the men’s side, Kristof Rasovszky (HUN) has a 250 point lead over Gregorio Paltrinieri (ITA).

Image Source: FINA Archive

The rivalry between the last two Olympic champions - Tokyo gold medalist Cunha along with Rio gold medalist Van Rouwendaal - will be on full display as two of the best to ever do it will fight tooth and nail to win the overall title.

Tied at 2200 points, the objective will be simple: whoever wins between those two will have their hands on the overall trophy.

After Van Rouwendaal won in Cunha’s home country to claim the 2016 Olympic gold medal, Cunha finally broke through to win that elusive last title in Tokyo. After five World titles leading into 2020, she finally won that Olympic gold medal, and has been on a tear since.

Cunha won both the 5K and 25K at the World Championships this summer in Budapest, but she had one blip in the 10K, where Van Rouwendaal got the corner and out-touched Cunha and Germany’s Leonie Beck, both of whom will be in Eilat.

Image Source: FINA Archive

For this final stop in the Marathon World Series, Cunha has the upperhand, winning the races in Portugal and France, with Van Rouwendaal finishing second both times. It was in Canada where Van Rouwendaal got the win, with Cunha finishing third behind Italy’s Ginevra Taddeucci.

The Italian currently sits in third in the rankings with 1850 points while the gap widens between her and fourth place holder Barbara Pozzobon of Italy at 1100 points.

Cunha is perhaps the best open water swimmer of all-time, based on her resume, her endurance, and her race strategy. She has the respect amongst her competitors, but if anyone can beat her it could be Van Rouwendaal. The Dutch woman has done it before, and with an overall Marathon World Series on the line, it will be interesting how the race between them shakes out, and if anyone can pull the upset to take them both down.

The men’s race has also seen the emergence of 19-year-old David Betlehem of Hungary, who is currently third overall behind Rasovszky and Paltrinieri, just 50 points behind the Italian.

Image Source: FINA Archive

Although the men’s open water field has generally been dominated by the likes of Paltrinieri, German Florian Wellbrock and Italian Domenico Acerenza - their age averaging to 26-years-old, in comes the teenage Betlehem, who was the World Junior champion this year.

Betlehem has seen a plethora of success in open water team swimming, winning silver in a home World Championships and at the European Championships in the mixed team event. Together, he and Razovsky have helped rise the Hungarian team as a world power in open water swimming.

For the Marathon World Series, he currently sits third with 1550 points behind the likes of Rasovszky (1850) and Paltrinieri (1600). It would take a lot for Betlehem to win the crown, but perhaps this is the start of his rise to dominance.

If Paltrinieri, the 10K World Champion this year, is to win the overall Marathon World Series title, he will need to win the last stop in Israel and hope that Rasovszky finishes fifth or worse. Although the likelihood of that happening doesn’t seem to be high, in Canada, where Paltrinieri was not present, Rasovszky was fourth, while Acerenza won the race ahead of Australia’s Nicolas Sloman and Betlehem.

Image Source: FINA Archive

Betlehem would need to win the Israel race and have Rasovszky finish sixth or worse in order for him to win the overall title.

Rasovszky has yet to win a race across the three steps, finishing second in France, third in Portugal, and fourth in Canada, but still has the lead. After underperforming at a home World Championships in Budapest, he looks to be on a redemption arc in 2022.

Paltrinieri was the World champ in 2022 after winning the Olympic bronze medal in 2021 behind Rasovszky. Paltrinieri won both races in Portugal and France and looks to be the favorite in Israel after not racing in Canada. He has become one of the top open water swimmers in the world, adding on to his legacy he began in the pool in 2012 when he made the 1500m freestyle Olympic final at age 17 in London. Since then, he won three World titles and the 2016 Olympic crown, only missing the world record, which he challenged for 1450 meters at this year’s World Championships.

Image Source: FINA Archive

When Paltrinieri retires, he will go down as one of the best distance swimmers - in the pool and in the lake - of all-time. If he can win this weekend’s Marathon World Series while only swimming in three of the four races, it will only add to his legacy.

If Rasovszky hangs on to win, it will be a nice finish to what was an underwhelming year of 2022, and if his teammate Betlehem wins, it could be the start of a long run of dominance for the Hungarian. The aforementioned Paltrinieri was 19 when he won his first European title in 2014 and 20 when he won his first World title in 2015.

The race gets underway on Friday, November 11 with the mixed 4x1500m relay and concludes Saturday with the men’s and women’s 10K races. Check out the trailer below 👇