Location: Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro
Sharon van Rouwendaal - 10km open water marathon swimming
It’s mid august in Rio de Janeiro. Winter in Brazil.
But for a European citizen like I am it is no problem with temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius. Perfect weather to stroll along the beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana. However, we are there with a mission; to see the Olympic 10 km open water swimming for women.
Sharon van Rouwendaal from the Netherlands has the perfect character for open water swimming. She is a tough cookie. A very tough cookie. She trains, voluntarily, under the reign of Philippe Lucas from France. 18 km. A day!
During the first week of the Rio Olympics Sharon participates in the 400m freestyle indoor. She does both disciplines which is exceptionally difficult to combine. However, qualification is not in reach and she decides to drop the 800m later that week and to fully focus on the marathon open water.
While we walk through the water of the Copacabana, enjoying the stunning views, we try to catch a glimpse of Sharon or of any of the other crazy women in the open water. The only thing I see is the plashing of water. For a second it reminds me of Steven Spielberg’s most famous beach scene in JAWS. Although there were lots of rumours before the Games that the seawater quality of Rio would also cause a terrible death (..) Around the splashing areas a few boats float. Water is handed with a stick. It is a surreal scene.
Fortunately, we can follow the race on the beach via a huge screen. We see that Sharon is leaving the peloton halfway the race. An early sprint for the finish but she is so strong. It is clear; today Van Rouwendaal is the Queen of the Copacabana. She touches the finish board way in front of all others.
The medal ceremony is emotional. Sharon went through so many hardships during those endless trainings in France that it all comes out in this ultimate race. Femke van Heemskerk, who for a period also trained together with Van Rouwendaal, shouts at Sharon; “This is the reward for all those trainings where you’ve trained your ass off!”.
We wait for Sharon after the ceremony. This takes a long wait (Sharon has the doping check which takes time), but when she comes, she signs a few autographs and…gets on her bike(?!). A fresh golden medallist heading into Rio traffic. Piece of cake, she has been through worse…