Tokyo Olympics Day 12: Rough finish on the open water

Cary's Ashley Twichell led for most of the open water marathon swimming event before finishing seventh in her first and likely last Olympic race

Ashley Twichell leads the pack during the third lap of the women's marathon swimming event in Tokyo (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

At 32 years old, Ashley Twichell is the oldest American swimmer to make her Olympic debut since 1908. Wednesday, in what was likely both her first and last swim at the Games, she did everything she could to make the most of her opportunity in the women’s 10-kilometer marathon open water event.

The Duke graduate who lives and trains in Cary bolted to the front of the 25-woman field on the second of seven rectangular laps and stayed there most of the way before being overtaken late. She still managed to stay with the lead pack to earn a seventh-place finish, just behind fellow American Haley Anderson 7.1 seconds behind gold medal winner Ana Cunha of Brazil.

“In the back end of the first lap, I got caught right in the middle of the pack,” Twichell told “From then, I knew that that’s not where I wanted to be in the race, so then I kind of found myself in the lead – that’s where I’m most comfortable swimming open water and is where I’ve always felt most comfortable. I felt really strong, and I knew there was a big pack behind me most of the way.”

Twichell began attempting to earn an opportunity to represent her country in the Olympics since 2008 when she was still an undergraduate at Duke. After trying and failing three times, she finally accomplished her goal in July 2019 by qualifying for the Tokyo Games with a top-10 finish at the world championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

Despite her strong showing, she said she’s ready to end her competitive career.

“It was always my plan to retire after Tokyo,” Twichell said. “It obviously got pushed back a year, which wasn’t the plan, but I’ve had a great career and I’m ready to move on.”

Medal count

________________________________Gold    Silver    Bronze    Total

USA                                                25          31           23            79

China                                             32           22           16           70

ROC                                               14            21           18            53

Great Britain                                15            18           15            48

Japan                                             21             7            12            40

Carolina Connections

Quanera Hayes of Hope Mills and Livingstone College finished only fourth in her semifinal heat of the women’s 400 meters, but her time of 49.8 was the seventh-fastest overall and good enough to earn her a spot in Friday’s medal race. Fellow American Allyson Felix also qualified for the final in search of her seventh career gold medal while Wadelene Jonathas missed out on the final eight.

Anna Cockrell’s strong Olympic performance ended with a seventh-place finish in the women’s 400 meter hurdles that was downgraded to eighth after the Charlotte native was disqualified because of a lane violation.

Caine Wilkes of the United States competes in the men’s +109kg weightlifting event at the Tokyo Olympics, (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Another Charlotte athlete, Caine Wilkes, finished seventh in the 109-plus kilogram weightlifting competition. Wilkes, completing a successful comeback from a serious back injury in 2009, lifted a total of 390 kilograms (859.8 pounds). Wilkes snatched 173 kg (381 pounds) and lifted 271 kg (478 pounds) in the clean-and-jerk to complete his first Olympic appearance. Lasha Talakhadze of the Republic of Georgia won the gold medal with a world record setting performance.

Duke’s Leona Maguire, representing Ireland, shot an even par round of 71 to tie for 21st after the first of four rounds in the women’s golf competition. The former Blue Devil is five shots behind leader Madelene Sagstrom of Sweden.

Next up

East Carolina’s Tynita Butts-Townsend will make her first appearance of the Games in the preliminaries of the women’s high jump competition. Asheville track cyclist Adrian Hegyvary will race for the U.S. in the men’s Omnium Scratch Race. In team competition, athletes with NC ties will be in action as the women’s soccer team plays Australia for the bronze medal while the men’s basketball team plays Australia and the baseball team plays South Korea in their respective semifinals.

The Associated Press contributed to this story