By Sharon Robb
Budapest, Hungary, July 19, 2017—Ashley Twichell made history Wednesday at the 17th FINA World Aquatics Championships at Lake Balaton.
Twichell won the women’s 5K open water title and at age 28 became the oldest American to win an open water world title and oldest to win an individual world gold medal since Jenny Thompson in 2003.
Twichell is also the first American to win a gold medal at these world championships.
Twichell won the 3.1-mile race in 59 minutes and 7 seconds to knock off 10K women’s champion Aurelie Muller of France by 3.5 seconds. It was the U.S. team’s third consecutive open water 5K world title and Twichell’s third world championship medal in open water swimming. She won bronze in the 5K and gold in the team pursuit event in 2011.
“The goal here was to get on the podium,” Twichell said. “I’m really excited to get on the podium for the United States.”
Brazilian Ana Marcela Cunha, who has trained and competed in South Florida, took the bronze medal, just 4.4 seconds back. It was her eighth career world open water medal.
Olympic gold medalist Sharon van Rouwendaal of the Netherlands and American Haley Anderson, the 2013 and 2015 world champion, were fourth and fifth respectively.
Twichell, a 2011 Duke alum, was coming off a disappointing tenth place finish in Sunday’s 10K race.
“I didn’t feel awesome during the 10K so I took two days in between to really try to recover and get my mind back straight,” Twichell said.
Twichell made her surge on Muller with 700 meters to go and never relinquished the lead.
“Having drafted for the first bit, I felt like I had something left,” said Twichell, who shook off a sore shoulder and lasting effects of an injury she has had in the last few years. “I didn’t feel like I used up everything, so that last straightaway I tried to bring in the legs which I typically don’t use. We swam at a perfect pace, and I left the others at the right moment close to the end.
“I really didn’t know how far behind me anyone was so I didn’t want to look back and waste any time. I just tried to put my head down as much as I could and go as hard as I could those last 240 meters.”
Jun Hoong Cheong of Malaysia upset gold medal favorite and 2016 Olympic gold medalist Ren Qian of China to win the gold medal in a thrilling women’s platform final.
Cheong, 27, who took a bronze medal in the 10-meter synchro event earlier in the week, won with 397.50 points, clinching her gold on the final dive by 1.5 points.
It was Malaysia’s first-ever world title not only in diving but the entire world championships.
Cheong was flawless, picking up four 10s on her reverse 2 ½ somersaults.
“My God, I am a world champion,” said a stunned Cheong. “Of course, it is a dream come true. It is the first gold medal at world championships in diving for Malaysia. It’s unexpected and unbelievable.
“I hoped for a medal, but I didn’t think I could beat the Chinese divers,” Cheong said. “I have focused only for myself and I watched the scoreboard after the last dive so I realized my win only at that moment.”
China teenager Si Yajie, 18, took the silver with 396.00 and Ren the bronze with 391.95 points. Ren, 16, was attempting to become the first diver to win three gold medals at a World Championship. Ren also lost in the 2015 final.
Four of the nine titles have been won by divers from other countries which means China will not match its total of 10 out of 13 accomplished in 2015.
Russian Svetlana Kolesnichenko won the women’s solo free title and her third gold medal of the world championships.
The 23-year-old won with 96.1333 points for her technical and rhythmed routine and 95.500 points in prelims. It was Russia’s first win in the event since 2009.
“I’m the Amazon in my free solo routine,” Kolesnichenko said. “So I kind of fight for gold in the true sense of the word. I like this program very much. I executed a very good performance in the final. I did the best I could and will continue to pursue this standard in the future.”
The duet free final is Thursday morning.
The U.S. team qualified for the team free final by placing 12th in Wednesday’s prelims. Russia was first with 96.800 points followed by China and the Ukraine. The team free final is Friday.
Sharon Robb can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org