To hear Aurélie Muller‘s cries after the 10 km marathon swim at the 2016 Rio Olympics was to hear deeply profound agony and disappointment by an athlete who was disqualified after long chasing her Olympic dreams.
It was heartbreakingly sad to watch.
But her dream continues.
In 2007, Muller was ranked a distant 100th in the FINA 10KM Marathon Swimming World Cup series, but she improved greatly and qualified for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games where she finished 21st (out of 25 finalists) in the 10 km marathon swim.
She continued to compete and by the 2011 FINA World Championships in Shanghai, Muller won a silver medal in the 5 km race. She was primed to make a splash at the 2012 London Olympics, but missed qualifying for both the 800m freestyle and 10 km marathon swim.
But 2015 was Muller’s breakout year when she won the 2015 FINA World Swimming Championships 10 km marathon swim to qualify first for the Olympic 10K Marathon Swim at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and was named the Swimming World Magazine Female Open Water Swimmer of the Year and the LEN Open Water Swimmer of the Year.
But her race in Rio de Janeiro was her third Olympic attempt to reach the podium, but she was disqualified on her very last stroke, losing out on a possible silver medal. It was a crushing blow – and defeat that could have very easily led to her retirement.
Stéphane Lecat, Directeur de L’Eau libre for the Fédération Française de Natation, described her post-Olympic activities, “She did not swim for a few months after Rio. But then she wanted to do something – like a triathlon – to prove herself. But after talking with her coach Philippe Lucas, we asked her to compete in the 57 km Maratón Acuática Internacional Santa Fe – Coronda in Argentina. It was a huge challenge for her, but she finished third in 9 hours 5 minutes.”
She had her drive back, her passion intact and went on a tear.
In July of 2017, she won the 10 km race at the 2017 FINA World Swimming Championships in Lake Balaton, Hungary, finished 2nd in the 5 km race, and competed in the gold medal winning 5 km relay with David Aubry, Oceane Maryse Jeannie Cassignol, and Marc-Antoine Olivier. She was later
named Swimming World Magazine’s Open Water Swimmer of the Year for 2017.
“She is such a kind and inspirational ambassador for the sport,” observed Steven Munatones. “As Stéphane Lecat explained, even her defeats and disqualifications have made her even more well-known and well-respected. She takes the time to share open water swimming tips to people of all ages and abilities. She is patient and personable. She signs shirts and autographs for children who have never met an Olympian – and she just never tires of sharing her passion for the open water with others.”
A documentary film by Vincent Alix – Canal + Intérieur Sport tells of her Olympic experiences and her comeback swim in the 2017 Maratón Acuática Internacional Santa Fe – Coronda: see Aurélie Muller, la fille du fleuve [The River Girl] here.
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