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Sharon van Rouwendaal, the polyhistor of swimming

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Holland has been famous of its short distance swimmers, but Sharon van Rouwendaal is an exception. A couple of years ago she moved to France in order to improve in the longer distances as well. She is not a specialist, she has great results in the pool, but the world learned her name after her fantastic win in the open water event at the 2016 Olympics.

Holland has had plenty of world class swimmers, like Pieter van den Hoogenband, Inge de Bruijn or Inge Dekker, but one thing has been common in them: they have been all short distance specialists. There are, however, two young talented Dutch athletes, who have achieved some excellent results in long distance as well: Ferry Weertman and Sharon van Rouwendaal. This portrait is about 23-year-old Van Rouwendaal.

The Baarn-born Dutchwoman is one of the most versatile swimmers of the world, since she has outstanding results in different events, both in the pool and in open water. 2008 was the beginning of her international career, when she broke the Dutch 1500m freestyle record, which had been held since 1984. After winning national titles the same year, she competed at the 2008 European Junior Championships, improved her record in the mile, and won four medals including a gold in the mile, and three silvers in the 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle and 800m freestyle. (

Her first medals in a senior major event came at the 2010 European Short Course Swimming Championships, where she won silver in the 100m and the 200m backstroke. She finished third a year later at the FINA World Championships in Shanghai in the 200m backstroke.

Van Rouwendaal left the Netherlands because of its sprint-friendly nature, which didn’t fit with her distance-swimmer mentality. In the Netherlands she didn’t feel that she had the training background to finish her races with power, and she claims that she began to lose trust in her coaching staff. The move worked, since she won a medal in the 800m freestyle at the 2013 European Short Course Swimming Championships as well.

2014 turned to be a fantastic year for her. She won a total of seven medals at the European Championships in Berlin and at the World Short Course Championships in Doha. In Berlin she even surprised herself by winning the 10km event and the team event in open water with Ferry Weertman and Marcel Schouten.

However, she did not specialize in open water after that, she achieved some good results both in the pool and in the Kazanka river at the 2015 FINA World Championships: she won the silver medal in the 400m freestyle, the 10km and the team event.

She finished in third place in the 5km at the 2016 European Open Water Championships, and then she conquered the world a few weeks later at the Rio Olympics: she won the gold medal in the 10km event, finishing 17 seconds ahead of silver medalist Rachele Bruni.

"Two months before the Olympics I was not too optimistic. I had a shoulder injury, so I wasn’t at my best, only about 70 percent fit, but mentally I was really strong. Before the start I felt everybody was nervous, but I kept calm. I think mentally I was the strongest on that day. My rivals were under pressure because for them it was the race of the year, but for me it was one like the others. I just wanted to have fun, I had nothing to lose, since that year hadn’t been successful for me until that point. In the end I won with a big advantage, and it was unbelieveble. A dream came true…" – Van Rouwendaal said to Bp2017 Media.

„I don’t want to specialise in any of the two, I want to swim both in open water and in the pool. I think the pool swimming is the key to swim fast in the open water. If I had been 100 percent fit in Rio, I could have won a medal in 400 m, too, like in Kazan, but at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Hungary my goal is to stand on the podium in the pool and in Balatonfüred as well.”

The open water swimming competition will be held from 15 to 21 July in Balatonfüred, the pool swimming events from 23 to 30 July in the new Duna Arena in Budapest at the 2017 FINA World Championships.


Born: Baarn (Netherlands), 9 September, 1993

Medal record:

Open water:

Olympic champion (2016 Rio, 10km)

World silver medalist (2015 Kazan, 10km and team event)

European champion (2014 Berlin, 10km and team event)

European silver medalist (2014 Berlin, 5km)

European bronze medalist (2016 Hoorn, 5km)

Long course:

World silver medalist (2015 Kazan, 400m freestyle)

World bronze medalist (2011 Shanghai, 200m backstroke)

European silver medalist (2014 Berlin, 400m freestyle)

Short course:

World champion (2014 Doha, 4x200m freestyle)

World silver medalist (2014 Doha, 400m freestyle)

World bronze medalist (2014 Doha, 800m freestyle)

European silver medalist (2010 Eindhoven, 100m and 200m backstroke)

European bronze medalist (2013 Herning, 800m freestyle; 2015 Netanya, 800m freestyle)