This first leg of the 2018 FINA World Series featured numerous routines from the top four nations that have been monopolizing the international podiums over the last few years. Russia was carefully watching how close China would come in the technical events, while Ukraine and Japan were still fighting it out for the third spot in the world hierarchy. However, some exciting shakeups and improvements also occurred towards the middle of the rankings.
Plenty of countries came to Montreuil to try out the new technical elements and observe how each country was handling them. The new elements across all events are honestly quite tricky and complicated, but it was quite reassuring to see every nation from top to bottom struggle on the same ones. A handful of soloists received zeros on their last element, the dreaded Barracuda Continuous Spin 720°, while most teams – yes, even Russia and China – showed struggles on the Full Twist to Continuous Spin 1440°.
Russia swept all three technical events on the first day of competition. Varvara Subbotina, who turns 17 at the end of the month, made her return to competition after a one-year hiatus in the technical solo category, which she absolutely crushed by nearly three points over the silver medalist Yukiko Inui from Japan. Subbotina, who will likely rule us all in a few years, competed like a veteran.
Subbotina was paired with Svetlana Kolesnichenko for the technical duet, where they won gold with a score of 94.6415. Russia brought out its A-team for the technical team event, which it won with a 93.6476. The Russians swam the same technical program “Rhythm of the City” as in Rio and in Budapest, although obviously with the new elements. This isn’t Russia’s potentially strongest roster, as it was missing Chigireva (injury), Shurochkina (alternate), and Kolesnichenko and Subbotina were only swimming in the solo and duet events.
While Russia still impressed with its rapidity of execution and pattern changes, we can be nitpicky and find small mistakes throughout. This wasn’t Russia’s best performance, but it’s still early in the season and the team composition can be improved with the inclusion of the four mentioned above.
While yes, it’s still early in the season but China showed us that Russia is potentially within reach as it scored a 92.5899 in technical team, only a little over a point behind the Russians and just enough to scare them. Most teams took a dive in technical team scores since worlds, but the gap is undoubtedly closing between these two countries.
The Chinese also swam the same technical routine as in Budapest, and it was just as superb and masterful. All members of the team were part of the historical gold medal winning free combination at the 2017 FINA World Championships. In Montreuil, the Chinese clearly proved that the transition following the departure of Mayuko Fujiki last August was absolutely seamless.
The Jiang twins earned silver in the technical duet event, but the biggest surprise came in the free duet as twins Wang Liuyi and Wang Qianyi won gold ahead of Ukraine and Japan in their first outing on the ‘big’ international stage as a pair. The two have been around for a while and have competed in smaller senior competitions as a duet, but have never been put up against their top senior opponents. It’s quite promising to see such results and to know that once the Jiang twins decide to retire, China should realistically be able to maintain its world rankings with the Wang twins. It’s still a bit early however to determine if the Wang will continue swimming the free duet or if the Jiang will take over both events come the Asian Games in August.
The back and forth between Japan and Ukraine continued in all solo and duet events. Japan was back ahead of Ukraine in the technical events, while the order flipped for the free ones with only a slim margin. While Japan’s soloist and duet have plenty of senior international experience in these events, the Ukrainians were testing out two potential soloists in Yelyzaveta Yakhno and Anastasiya Savchuk. The two finished extremely close to each other in technical solo while Yakhno was clearly ahead in free solo. The Ukrainians had a very successful showing overall and earned a medal in every event they entered, including gold in free team, free combination and highlight routines; the latter where they displayed a fun and entertaining routine with sky-high throws.
The competition in the mixed duet event was most interesting particularly in the free event where three of the best four duets (Russia, Italy and Japan) faced off. Russia’s pair of Aleksandr Maltsev and his new partner Maya Gurbanberdieva stayed ahead of the pack with the same routine as in Budapest for a score of 91.9333. Japan’s pair of Atsushi Abe and Yumi Adachi continued improving and is now only within 1.5 points of Italy, reducing by half the gap that existed at worlds. It would not be surprising at all to see Abe and Adachi medal next year at the 2019 FINA World Championships if their scores continue rising so consistently.
Spain was only there for the mixed duet events and free combination. The Spanish kept the same combo as the last four years unfortunately, but the swimmers looked more confident and sharp than we’ve seen them in the past years. It was an interesting strategy for the nation, but it is a good routine for not only the young roster to improve and adapt to Fujiki’s coaching, but also to ease Ona Carbonell back into the team events as it is likely the technical and free routines will change.
Israel has been working with Anna Tarres this season and showed gigantic and impressive progress in Montreuil. Its free team routine gained seven (yes, seven!) points compared to the 2017 FINA World Championships last summer, while their technical team score increased by five and a half points. Its improvement in both technique and choreography has been astonishing and we can be certain the nation will shake up the European rankings in Glasgow this summer, and likely in the years to come as it is still quite a young team. The nation also earned a bronze medal in the highlight event.
Another country significantly on the rise is the Netherlands with the duet of Bregje and Noortje de Brouwer. The two have only been training with Esther Jauma for a few months, but are now comfortably in the 82-83 points window, an improvement of two to three points from worlds.
Finally, the host team of France earned two silver medals: one in free team where it broke the 86 points mark, and the other in highlight with a fun Cancan routine. The French duet selection for the 2020 Olympics has gotten even more interesting as both duets are very close in standings and scoring potential. The Tremble twins had the advantage in the technical routine, while the younger pair of Eve Planeix and Maureen Jenkins was ahead in free. The two duets will continue going head to head over the next few World Series meets the nation will attend.
Article by Christina Marmet.
Cover photo: FFN/P. Pongenty