RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Third-time Olympian Stéphanie Horner (Bathurst, N.B. / Beaconsfield, Que.) stayed in the lead pack for the first half of Olympic women’s 10-km marathon swimming before ultimately finishing 23rd on Monday.
Horner (Bathurst, N.B. / Beaconsfield, Que.), a relative neophyte in open water, traversed the Fort Copacabana course in one hour 59 minutes 22.1 seconds. The 28-year-old was in the top 10 after the second tap on the touch pad at the 5-km checkmark, before losing contact with the lead pack.
“All in all, it was good – this was my eighth race ever, I’m pretty new to this sport,” Horner said. “It’s definitely progress. I was supposed to feed on lap one and two, which did. The goal was to stick with the front pack – be in the mix. I tried to stick with it on lap three, but lost it a little bit. It was in the fourth lap that the pace really picked up.
“I think this wave really represented open water well,” Horner added. “There’s waves, it’s salt water there’s 25 people, best of the best. Some races there are only 15 or 16 women … open water is meant to be out in the ocean.”
The Netherlands’ 22-year-old Sharon Van Rouwendaal won the gold in 1:56:32.1. France’s Aurelie Muller was the second to finish, but was disqualified for impeding Italy’s Rachele Bruni. Bruni (1:56:49.5) took the silver medal and Brazil’s Poliana Okimoto (1:56:51.4) took out a bronze for the Games host.
Horner was on the Canadian Olympic teams in 2008 and 2012, with her best result being 11th place in 400-m freestyle in ’08. The University of Victoria Vikes alumna was encouraged to take up open water after the London cycle. Horner got up to speed by working with coach Ron Jack and garnered experience by competing in the 2015 Summer Universiade (the world student games). In June, Horner earned a ticket to Rio by finishing in 15th place in the Olympic qualification tournament.
“A lot of people encouraged me to try open water,” Horner said. “It was not a sport that attracted me at first. I used to be a 200 and 400 swimmer. I like challenges so I said, ‘why not?’ It’s nice that I’ve been able to succeed by representing Canada. It’s just a different mindset.
“A LOT OF PEOPLE ENCOURAGED ME TO TRY OPEN WATER,” HORNER SAID. “IT WAS NOT A SPORT THAT ATTRACTED ME AT FIRST. I USED TO BE A 200 AND 400 SWIMMER. I LIKE CHALLENGES SO I SAID, ‘WHY NOT?’ IT’S NICE THAT I’VE BEEN ABLE TO SUCCEED BY REPRESENTING CANADA. IT’S JUST A DIFFERENT MINDSET.
“I made progress so I’m encouraged to keep going with it. My coach back home Ron Jacks has taught me so much in the last year and a half. Four years from now [2020 Olympics] is a long time but I am qualified to swim in the world championships next year in Budapest.”
On top of Horner’s relative inexperience, she was also contending with a larger field than in the typical race.
“I think Stephanie did a very commendable job,” open water team coach Steve Price said. “It’s the first time she has experienced a field that deep, of that nature. She swam a very good pace for three laps and did a good job at the feeds, which was a challenge because the feeding pontoons were so high off the water. She did a good job and kind of blew up in the last lap. She just needs more time. All of the makings are there if she wants to keep doing that.
“She now knows what that [Olympic] pace is. She was a pro the entire preparation cycle in Montreal. I’m pretty happy with her.”
Richard Weinberger (Moose Jaw, Sask.) has a chance to be a contender in the men’s 10-km marathon race on Tuesday.