Italy's Ruffini and Brazil's Cunha win final two gold medals in 25km event

Kazan 2015 - OW

Simone Ruffini of Italy and Ana Marcela Cunha of Brazil each claimed one of the final two open water gold medals today in the 25km events. Ruffini's time of 4:53.10.7 was 4.4 seconds faster than Alex Meyer of the USA who he passed in the final 500m of the race. Cunha, the Brazilian multi-medallist covered the distance in 5:13.47.3 and was 26.1 seconds faster than Hungary's Anna Olasz. 

Ruffini's big accomplishment in the water was nothing compared to his clever marriage proposal which played out on the medals podium and likely on international television. The open water champion and Rio bound Olympic qualifier asked his girlfriend and Italian teammate Aurora Ponsele "Will You Marry Me?" in a note that he unveiled during the 25km men's medals ceremony. His future wife signalled back with two fingers shaped in a heart to the delight of Italian wedding planners. Ponsele finished 22nd in the women's 10km earlier this week, unfortunately outside of the top 10 swimmers who qualified for the 2016 Olympics next summer in Brazil.

Ruffini becomes the third male from Italy with an individual open water world title following Valerio Cleri and Luca Baldini. Cleri won this event in Rome during the 2009 world championships and also the 10km in 2010 Open Water World Championships in Roberval (CAN) while Baldini won back to back 5km titles in 2001 in Fukuoka (JPN) and in Sharm El Sheikh (EGY) in 2002. Ruffini finished in seventh place in this event in Barcelona 2013.

American Meyer was swimming in 25th position at the 10km mark but found his strength to be the pace setter at the beginning of the final lap. Meyer reported that he and Ruffini worked together to ensure that the top two medals were theirs. He becomes the third American male swimmer with multiple open water individual medals at the world championships, after Chip Peterson and Fran Crippen.

Simone Ruffini (ITA) touching for gold - Photo credit: Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia

Finishing in third place, 1 minute and 27.3 seconds behind Ruffini was his Italian teammate Matteo Furlan who won his second medal of the Kazan championships. Furlan earned a bronze medal in the 5km earlier in the week. This was the first time in 13 years that two Italian male swimmers are on the same podium for an open water event at the worlds. Baldini and Stefano Rubaudo finished first and second in the 5km at the 2002 Open Water World Championships in Egypt.

Brazil's Cunha collected her seventh medal in open water swimming events at the world championships, her total is now two gold, two silver and three bronze. Cunha passes teammate Poliana Okimoto (1G-3S-2B) as the South American swimmer of either gender with the most open water world championships titles. She joins Edith van Dijk (NED - 4G), Angela Maurer (GER - 2G) and Britta Kamrau-Correstein (GER - 2G) as the only women to have won multiple gold medals in this event. Since the turn of the century 12 of the 14 women's 25km world titles have been won by European swimmers, with the exception of Cunha's victories in 2011 and today.

Hungarian Olasz led the end of the eighth and ninth laps but the Brazilian was only two seconds behind and making every effort to conserve her energy for the breakaway. Olasz becomes the third swimmer from her country to receive an individual medal in open water swimming following Rita Kovacs silver in 1994 Rome worlds and Csaba Gercsak's bronze from the 25km in Shanghai.

Germany's Maurer finished 1 minute and 20.3 seconds behind the Brazilian to claim her ninth medal in this event in world championship history. Maurer's two golds, 3 silver medals and 4 bronze medals eclipses Van Dijk (NED)'s previous eight medal haul. It was the German's 13th medal in open water swimming equalling Kamrau-Corestein (GER) who was commentating on today's race at the venue. Maurer turned 40 years old on July 27th. She won her first bronze medal in the 25km in November 2000 in Honolulu when today's gold and silver medallists were only eight and seven years old. 

Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA) celebrating her victory - Photo credit: Giorgio Scala/Deepbluemedia

The beautiful weather at the start of the race took a sharp turn with rain falling on the athletes during the last hour of their races. A total of 13 men and 17 women completed the race.

The FINA Open Water Championships Trophy was claimed by the USA which earned 108 points in open water swimming. Second place Italy with 99 points outscored the USA men by one point, 60 to 59. Germany was third place with 94 points and outscored the USA in the women's competition by a margin of 44 to 39.


Men’s race

Simone Ruffini (ITA, gold):
“I made my race in the last 1km because I swam very poorly in the first 10K as I was fighting stomach problems. I started to feel better around the 17.5km mark and decided that I could attempt a breakaway. I saw the American (Alex Meyer) and the French (Axel Reymond) swimming together and decided to join them. I played for gold with Alex Meyer. In the last 50m, I felt very fresh and I was determined to arrive first. I'm happy for the gold medal and even happier that the answer to my marriage proposal to Aurora (Ponsele) was a sign of love from her. This was the best moment of my life. Of course I am looking forward to the Olympic Games, but today I understand the meaning of my life”.

Alex Meyer (USA, silver): “I'm happy with my finish and proud to get a medal for the USA and to contribute to the team trophy which we also won today. I'm also very happy for Simone for proposing to his new fiancée. Perhaps if I had won today he might not have proposed to her, I'm not sure. He and I worked together on the last lap which was very sportsmanlike and professional”.

“The ups and downs of this race are always a profound experience for me. Today I felt good, then I felt bad. I also felt everything in between and I was going through about all kinds of stuff during the race. I tried to conserve energy and I tried to keep my mind together. The mental battle is half of the effort”.

“There were some kinks in the plan and times when I had some distress and I felt under pressure. I got pretty far back there at one point but once I got back up in the lead I was feeling better. There was some great teamwork with me and Ruffini and together we pulled away, guaranteeing a medal for each of us. Obviously I would have liked to pass him on the last lap but I laid it all out”. 

“I was honestly surprised at our lead over the others. I really thought that everyone was much closer, but it was the only Italian and he wasn't close enough to catch us”.

Matteo Furlan (ITA, bronze): “I saw Ruffini at the 20km mark and I tried to do my best but I was exhausted at the finish. In the last 1km I had no energy. My preferred race is the 5km and sometimes the 10km, so a medal in the 25km really is an exceptional result for me and an unexpected medal too!”

“For this race, my strategy was to follow the group as I have no experience in 25km racing. I normally train and race in the swimming pool where the 1500m freestyle event is my focus. Only in the last two years, have I trained for open water swimming”.

Women’s race

Ana Marcela Cunha (BRA, gold):
“After five hours, I am hungry and I need to eat something. I am very happy with this race. Four years ago, I won in Shanghai and I'm pleased to win again in Kazan. One year from now, will be the Olympic Games in my country. I and training for 2016 Rio and that means that I am very motivated to swim in a home Olympics. I really love everything about these World Championships”.

“Two years ago I followed the same strategy in Barcelona, but I know that I am more prepared today. In Shanghai, I did not qualify for the London Olympics and I felt sad. I knew that I had another race in just a few days, and I won the gold medal in the 25km”.

“It was a very tough race today. When the boys passed we tried to keep up with them. In the next lap, it was only me and Anna Olasz still leading”.

“I want to be in good shape for the Olympics. The next step is a Marathon World Cup event in Hong Kong as I am taking things step by step. I don't believe in luck, I only believe in hard work”.

Anna Olasz (HUN, silver): “I'm pretty happy as this was only my second 25km race. I can't say that I am experienced at open water swimming. It was a really hard race especially when the boys came and we tried to keep up with them. The last lap was very long… I promised myself that I would finish strong and I'm really happy with a medal here”.

“My coach told me where the boys were. I tried to be in front so that I would go with them and I managed to swim with the guys for a while”.

Angela Maurer (GER, bronze):
“I'm so happy for this result because it was a really hard race today, especially when the boys passed us. At the 20km mark, I knew the pace was too fast and I was given wrong information on how many swimmers were ahead of me. On the last lap, I swam as fast as I could and I was not thinking I would get a medal believing there were a few swimmers ahead of me. I will enjoy this medal very much because it might be my last world championships. I was happy to swim with Ana Marcela and also with Anna”.

“I admit this race was hard for me and this is really the only race for me now. Many years ago, when I was young I swam the 88km race in Argentina and in other longer distance races. I have done many long races and I got a lot of experience in these races. I am happy that I can still swim at this high level with athletes that are so much younger than me. I can't swim every day with the same intensity that these younger athletes. I also can't endure hard training every day. When I swim a 25km my motivation is always to swim in for a medal. Now I am 40 years old and I enjoy it. I believe I can be very proud of my career”.