It looked like it might be another hard-fought win for 2016 Olympic champion Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands as the 29-year-old stayed in the top two for the first 8000 meters of the 10km at the first stop of the 2023 World Cup in Somabay, Egypt. Van Rouwendaal had stayed within two seconds of leader Moesha Johnson of Australia for the first 6000 meters before making her move on the second half.

Van Rouwendaal and Johnson were at the front of the lead pack that also included the usual suspects in reigning Olympic champion Ana Marcela Cunha of Brazil and two-time 10km World champ Aurelie Muller of France. Van Rouwendaal, Cunha, and Muller all won at least one medal at last year’s World Championships in Budapest where the Dutchwoman won the gold medal.

At the 8000-meter check-in, Germany’s Leonie Beck had emerged to take the lead, coming from well off the pace early. Beck was in 18th place at 2000 meters, and 12th at 4000. By the 6km mark, she had risen steadily to ninth. Over the second half, the pace started to slow down significantly, as it helped her rise up in the pack without needing to expel too much energy.

However Beck admitted that the race fell into her hands and she could not have predicted that is how it would go.

"After half of the race, I came into the race and I found my speed," Beck said. "It definitely wasn’t the plan to be so behind at the beginning."

Throughout the final lap, Beck and van Rouwendaal distance themselves from the field, out-lasting both Cunha and Muller who were third and fourth respectively.

“I was feeling Sharon’s hands on my feet the entire time,” Beck said. “I was trying to manage the speed and trying to stay in the front position. I could manage this well and then in the last 50m you’ve got to try everything that you can and go all out.”

Beck won the 10km at 2:04:04.6, three seconds ahead of van Rouwendaal (2:04:07.3), and another seven ahead of Cunha (2:04:11.0).

Image Source: Somabay Red Sea/World Aquatics

“I’m very satisfied with today’s performance,” Van Rouwendaal said. “I was feeling very good so I thought, ‘Why don’t I go for the sprint leader points as well?’ It was really enjoyable to race again.”

Water temperatures was reported to be at 25 degrees Celsius (77 Fahrenheit) while water was visibly choppy at points during the race.

“There were very hard conditions, but that made it real open water swimming,” Van Rouwendaal said. “I’m very happy to start the season like this with a second place. Hopefully more will come.”

Cunha stayed even with the lead pack but could not turn on the sprint like she has in the past which has made her so dangerous over the last ten years. Cunha out-touched Muller (2:04:12.1) and fellow countrywoman Viviane Jungblut (2:04:12.6) for third place.

“Wow, today was a really tough race,” Cunha said. “My competitors were really well prepared. Our goal for the season is the World Championships in Fukuoka. Of course, I really like competing in the World Cups, but the main focus is on the upcoming World Championships. It's good to be on the podium, but it's also good to continue focusing on what our main goals are, and that is on Fukuoka.”

“It’s been six months since my last competition, with a surgery in the middle,” Cunha said. “I was 3 months without being in the water. Of course, I always come into a competition trying to win, to do my best. But to be on the podium here gives me a lot of confidence to continue pursuing and continue doing the things I need to do to accomplish what I want in Fukuoka.”

19-year-old Mafalda Rosa of Portugal emerged from today as a name to watch ahead of the upcoming World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka in July as she finished sixth overall (2:04:20.4) after sitting with the lead pack for the majority of the race.

“I’m super proud,” Rosa said. “It’s like, after all the work, it paid off. Now it’s, just keep going. This is definitely the closest I’ve ever been to the pack. My best before was 20-something place so I’m just so proud. I’ve been working a lot and in this race, I just wanted to experience new things and try something new. It paid off.”

Image Source: Somabay Red Sea/World Aquatics

World Aquatics has instituted two new additions to the open water swimming racing scene - a World Cup sprint leader and a junior leader.

The two new awards look to play a significant role in animating the racing and winning one can not only serve as a stepping stone for greater glories for the athlete but will soon also be considered an important victory in itself.

Athletes earn sprint points for passing through specific, pre-determined points within the individual 10km events. After each World Cup, the current highest cumulative sprint point-scoring athlete will carry this distinction into the following stop.

“Actually, the plan was not to go for the sprint points at all and just see how it's going,” Van Rouwendaal said. “But then I found myself in a very good position and I felt very good and I found it fun to go for the sprint points.

“I’m always racing how I’m feeling in the race. Sure, I have some race plans, but I’m always making decisions in the race according to how I’m feeling and what I’m seeing in how the race is developing.”

The World Cup Junior Leader will be awarded to the overall best-ranked young male and female athlete (aged 19 and under, as of 31 December 2022) in the 10km events. The current overall leader of the junior ranking will carry the title to the following stop.

The junior leader after today is 19-year-old Diana Taszhanova of Kazakhstan, who was 13th overall at 2:10:42.50, finishing well ahead of the next junior - Egypt’s Lamees Elsokkary (2:16:35.10) in 16th place.

“I’m just so happy,” Taszhanova said. “I’m filled with such joy from today’s performance and I can’t wait for more.”

Mixed Relay Racing Coming Up Next From Somabay


Contributing: Torin Koos