Kareena James at the Tokyo Test Event in 2019.

Kareena James at the Tokyo Test Event in 2019. Credit: Kareena Lee/Instagram

The Marathon Swimming is one of the longest events of Tokyo 2020, with two gold medals available in the race. Learn everything about the race here.

Marathon Swimming at Tokyo 2020 has two gold medals available, one in the male event and the other in the female event. For all your Olympic coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.

The open water swim was first included at Beijing 2008, and since then, has been the longest swimming event at the Olympics.

While not a marathon in distance, the 10km open water swim is named that way because it takes about the same time as marathon runners take, around two hours.

As a race in the open water, it bears more similarities to the swim leg of the triathlon and the marathon itself than any event in the pool. In fact, the only similarities with the pool are based around the fact that the race is in the water.

Race Basics

In many ways, marathon swimming is a very simple event. First to the end wins, and gets the gold medal. But there are complexities to the race too. Penalties apply for impeding other swimmers or grabbing other swimmers, including disqualification.

In Rio, the women’s silver medallist, Aurelie Muller (FRA) was disqualified at the finish for pulling the arm of Rachele Bruni (ITA), who appeared to have finished third. Muller was disqualified from the race, with Bruni elevated to silver and Paliana Okimoto (BRA) won bronze.

The men’s marathon swimming was less controversial but no less exciting. A photo finish was needed to separate Ferry Weertman (NED) and Spyridon Gianniotis (GRE), who finished in 1:52:59.8 and 1:53.00.5 respectively.


A second photo was needed to determine the bronze medal, with Marc-Antoine Olivier (FRA) pipping Zu Lijun (CHN) for the medal, as both finished in 1:53.02.0.

Aussie Competitors

Australia has never medalled in open water swimming, despite success in the other swimming events. Kai Edwards and Kareena Lee are both making their Olympic debuts at Tokyo 2020.

Edwards qualified in late June, with a strong finish at the final Olympic Qualifying event in Portugal. He finished 5th in the qualifying event for the Olympics, just nine seconds behind the winner, Hector Pardoe, in the final qualifying opportunity.

The 22-year old seems to be stronger in the longer event (the 25km open water swim is a world championships event, but not the Olympics). Edwards finished 5th in the 25km event at the World Championships in 2019, and 14th in the 10km race at the Championships.

Kareena Lee is also making her Olympic debut, after missing out in heartbreaking circumstances for Rio 2016. She was poised to qualify at the 2015 World Championships, before collapsing and being hospitalised at the 10km event, with dehydration, hypothermia, and a facial injury.

Lee was determined to return, and in 2019, sealed her spot for Tokyo 2020 with a seventh-placed finish at the 2019 World Championships. She finished just 3.3 seconds behind the race winner and ensured that she would be on the plane to the Olympics, regardless of the future COVID-19 delay.

Lee won the Tokyo test event in 2019, on a reduced distance course (5km, rather than 10km), due to the water temperature (almost 30 degrees). That win has given her confidence that she will be able to compete at the highest level at the Tokyo course, and finally break the duck for Australian open water swimmers.

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Medal Favourites

Weertman and Olivier have returned from Rio in 2016, and are expected to be strong chances for a medal. Jordan Wilimovsky (USA) was fifth at Rio and will be hoping to improve, and Hector Pardoe (GBR) as the winner of the final qualifying event has shown he has the ability to compete well under pressure.

Sharon van Rouwendaal (NED) won gold at Rio 2016 and is looking to defend that title. Bruni will be looking to go one better after silver at Rio, and finally step on the top of the podium.

Haley Anderson (USA) will also be looking to improve on her fifth place at Rio, and Lee will be looking to go better than her World Championships seventh-place finish.

The Women’s Marathon Swimming Event will be on 4 August, and the Men’s Marathon Swimming Event will be on 5 August.

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