Ana Marcela Cunha failed to win a medal at the Rio Olympics last year in her home country, and she has had many difficulties during her career, but she is not someone who resigns herself to the inevitable. She has won seven medals at the FINA World Championships so far, and she will arrive to Balatonfüred as the defending champion in 25k.
It is great luck that there was a swimming pool instead of a boxing ring in the primary school of Salvador de Bahia, the place where one of the greatest open water swimmer of our days Ana Marcela Cunha was born and grew up. She said in an interview a couple of years ago that this was the reason for becoming a swimmer.
The truth is, however, that she took up swimming at the age of two, so it was never a surprise that she chose this beautiful sport. In 2005, at age 13 she was able to reach second place in Travessia dos Fortes, the most important open water competition in Brazil. She won the race in 2006 and in 2011. At the age of 14 she won two gold medals at the South American Games in Buenos Aires.
Cunha qualified for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, becoming the youngest-ever swimmer to participate in the inaugural women's 10k open water marathon event, and finished fifth at the young age of 16. She took part in the FINA World Championships in 2009 for the first time, and in 2011 in Shanghai she won her first World gold medal in the 25k event. Despite that Cunha nearly missed out of the final slot for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, as she placed eleventh over 10k. In 2012, Cunha decided to withdraw from the FINA Olympic Marathon Swim Qualifier, held in Setubal, Portugal, to focus on her competitive career for the FINA 10k Marathon Swimming World Cup circuit. She won that series in 2010, 2012 and in 2014, too.
Cunha has won a total of six medals at the FINA World Championships. She finished third in 2010 in Roberval, Canada, and after the success in Shanghai she won two silver medals in Barcelona in 2013 (10k and team event). At the 2015 FINA WCH she won again over 25k and collected a bronze medal in the 5k event.
Luck did not shine on Cunha in the year of 2016. She was one of the big favourites of the Rio Olympics, but finished only tenth, blaming the underperformance on missing the in-race nutrition. She underwent surgery to remove her spleen in October 2016 due to an autoimmune disease she was diagnosed with earlier that year.
After so much difficulty Cunha has one clear goal for 2017: she wants to become a three-time world champion in Balatonfüred, the venue which will be familiar to her: she has participated many times in the World Cup event at the Lake Balaton.
ANA MARCELA CUNHA
Born: Salvador (Brazil), 23 March, 1992
Two-time World champion (2011 Shanghai, 25k; 2015 Kazan, 25k)
Two-time World silver medallist (2013 Barcelona, 10k; 2015 Kazan, team)
Three-time World bronze medallist (2010 Roberval, 5k; 2013 Barcelona, 5k; 2015 Kazan, 10k)
Three-time FINA World Cup Series winner (2010, 2012, 2014)
Four-time South American Games champion (2006 Buenos Aires, 5k and 10k; 2010 Medellín 5k; 2014 Santiago, team)