Angela Maurer (27 July, 1975) is a German open water swimmer who for over 15 years has consistently been one of the leading medal challengers at major international competitions in the 5km, 10km, and 25km events.
Now well into her second decade of competing at the top international levels of her discipline, Angela is still winning medals. Her first major success came in 1996 when she won her first German 5km championship, starting a three-year run on national titles at this distance, followed by four consecutive 25km wins (1999-2002).
Beyond the border of her native Germany, Angela started making her name in Europe as a 22-year-old, when she finished sixth in the 5km event at the 1997 European Championships. A year later, she won races in the Czech Republic (15km) and Sardinia (14km), and placed seventh at the World Championships in Perth. Her first appearance on the podium at a major international event came at the 1999 European Championships in Istanbul, where she won a silver medal at the 25km distance.
In the first decade of the new millennium, Angela continued to post impressive results at international events on a consistent basis. In 2000, she won a bronze medal in the 25km event at the World Open Water Championships in Honolulu, and placed third overall in the Open Water World Cup, winning the event in Argentina. She followed this up in 2001 with her first World Championship medal, a bronze in the 25km at Fukuoka, Japan. Silver medals came in 2002 for the 10km at the European Championships in Berlin and for the 25km at the World Championships in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where she also won bronze in the 10km event. Further medals came in 2003 at the World Championships in Barcelona with a silver in the 10km and a bronze in the 25km.
A gap appears in Angela’s CV for 2004 and 2005, when she was more focused on giving birth to her son Maxim, but if anything she returned from her maternity break stronger than ever. 2006 was a major year – first she won gold medals in both the 10km and 25km events at the European Championships in Budapest, and less than a month later she garnered her first 25km world title at the World Open Water Championships in Naples. Two years of near-misses followed, with fourth-placed finishes at the 2007 World Championships in Melbourne in both the 10km and 25km events, and at the inaugural 10km open water marathon event at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. By way of consolation, however, she was overall winner of the FINA 10km Marathon World Cup in both 2007 and 2008.
Angela returned to her medal-winning best in 2009, when she won her second 25km World Championship title in Rome, despite it being her first race at this distance in three years. In addition, she placed second overall in the FINA 10km Marathon World Cup, and was named Female Swimmer of the Year by the European Swimming Federation. 2010 was also successful, with silver and bronze medals for the 25km and 10km events at the European Championships in Budapest – losing by just 0.1s in the former, a remarkably close finish after nearly six hours of swimming – and another second place in the FINA 10km Marathon World Cup.
In 2011, Maurer narrowly failed to defend her 25km world title from Rome, finishing just 2.1s in second place in a frantic sprint to the finish. Later in the year she returned to the top ranking in the FINA 10km Marathon World Cup series, having finished second in the two previous years.
The dream of winning an Olympic medal in London, 2012, unfortunately was not realized as she finished fifth. A month after the Olympics, Maurer won the 10km silver medal at the European Open Water Swimming Championships in Piombino, Italy, and took home bronze as part of the German threesome in the 5km team event.
In July 2011, just four days after winning a 25km silver medal in the final open water event at the World Championships in Shanghai, Angela Maurer celebrated her 36th birthday. Two years prior when she won her first world title in the 25km swim, she was the only mother in the race, and the second-oldest in the field (by just six months). Over a career that is closing in on twenty years, she has swum the equivalent of one and a half times around the world, and when added up, her training load amounts to swimming non-stop for two-and-a-half months per year. She is nothing short of a phenomenon.
When she won the 25km title in Rome, she had been swimming almost six hours without a break, having endured losing her goggles in the first lap as a result of a fellow competitor’s kick, and fighting ocean waves that got bigger as the race wore on. She called it the toughest 25km she’d ever swum.
For lesser mortals than she, the physical demands of such a trial are beyond imagination, but the conditions are not unusual. Angela has swum in water so brown it was opaque, with planks of wood – replete with rusty nails – and dead rats providing further obstacles.
In cold water (less than 20°C), swimmers can burn up to 1,500 calories per hour, more than marathon runners (who are generally considered the highest calorie burners among endurance athletes). At the end of the 2011 World Cup race in Setubal, Portugal – which was swum in 17°C water with strong currents and a cold wind – Maurer still couldn’t get back her normal movement more than 20 minutes after she’d won the race, and had to be carried away on a stretcher to be properly treated against the effects of the cold. Warm water (above 30°C) provides the opposite challenges, as evidenced by the tragic passing of American Fran Crippen in October of 2010.
And then there are the competitors – women’s open water races are notoriously physical, far more so than the men’s. Judges with their yellow and red penalty cards can patrol the surface, but there’s as much (if not more) interference going on under the surface as above it, and broken ribs – while not common – are not unheard of. Angela is a Leo and refers to herself as “a purring cat” … until she gets into the water, where she and her rivals turn into “hyenas” and “Furies”. Hard to imagine from her soft, warm features and engaging smile.
Unlike many of her rivals, Angela opts not to train in the pool – “counting tiles”, as she refers to it – preferring the environment that she competes in: rivers, lakes, canals, the ocean. It also gets her out into more natural settings, which she also enjoys. Furthermore, the long hours of training offer her the opportunity to become totally in tune with her body, arguably more so than in any other sport, since there is no other distraction, just you and the water. For someone who had an intrinsic fear of the water, she’s come a long way, and while she’s overcome the primal fear of it, she’s never lost the respect.
Beyond the water, she’s training to become a police inspector, and raises the son born in 2005 that she had with trainer-husband, Nikolai Evseev. While she’s nearing the end of her illustrious career, there is just one award that’s eluded her – an Olympic medal. In Beijing she missed claiming the bronze by less than a second, and in London 2012 she was 14.6 seconds out of the podium places. Given her staying power, determination, and fighting spirit, it wouldn’t be beyond the realm of possibility for her to be challenging once again in Rio in 2016.