Japanese Domination and European Hierarchy Shake-ups at the Japan Open

The home team came out on top of the 2018 Japan Open competition by winning medals in every event it entered, including seven golds (technical and free solos, duets, teams, and free combination) and two silvers in both mixed duet events. While the Japanese dominated, the European order was also unexpectedly shaken up at this meet.

It was the first outing of the season for the Japanese team who was eager to introduce new technical and free (see below) routines in front of its home crowd. The nation faced a high turnover after the 2017 season, with only five returning swimmers out of the 10 who competed at the FINA World Championships.

The team had satisfying performances for its first time out, although it didn’t look as sharp and was overall less impressive with lifts and throws than what we are used to. However, the end goal of the Asian Games is still quite a few months away, and the Japanese still have plenty of time to improve. Yukiko Inui continued to be the most valuable swimmer of the squad and was part of all seven gold medal-winning routines.

Spain also unveiled its new technical routine set to Bollywood music for a score of 89.2206. The Spanish team is very homogeneous and had a fantastic showing with a clean and sharp swim, quick pattern changes and a cadence action to die for. After scoring in the 87-88 range all of last season, starting off 2018 already one point higher and only 1.48 points behind Japan is nothing but encouraging and exciting for the future.

With Ona Carbonell taking it easy this season to focus on her studies and other opportunities, Sara Saldana was introduced in the duet with Paula Ramirez. The two managed a bronze medal with a score of 87.0721, but were overtaken by the Italian duet who obtained 88.4489 for second place. The difference in skill and technical level between Ramirez and Saldana is apparent. However, the latter is still young, with only one year on the senior national team under her belt, and she still held her own for her first outing in the duet.

It will be however interesting to see how the rest of the season unfolds, and fans could be in for some exciting podium shake-ups at the European Championship if Italy is able to stay ahead, and with Greece only about 0.60 points behind Spain.

Greece’s Evangelia Platanioti and Evangelia Papazoglou were also able to bypass once again the Austrian duet of Anna-Maria and Eirini Alexandri in the technical event; the latter had moved ahead at the 2017 world championships by 0.0255 points.

Italy only brought its two duets to the competition, and both had great showings. Manila Flamini and Giorgio Minisini earned two gold in the mixed duet events, while Linda Cerruti and Costanza Ferro managed two silver medals in the technical and free events, with a new choreography in the latter (see below).

Cerruti also competed as a soloist, and unveiled her new technical solo for the first time this year. She was however beaten by Greece’s Platanioti for silver by a point. In the free event, Cerruti did manage to win the silver medal despite a one point penalty that brought her score down and a lot closer to Platanioti than she would have liked.

While the hierarchy is changing up at the top, it is also very much shaken up in the middle of the rankings in the duets. In the technical event, there is only a 0.71 point difference between the sixth duet and the ninth one. The race is tight between both of France’s pairs, Kazakhstan and the Netherlands.

Indeed, the Dutch duet of Bregje and Noortje de Brouwer continues its ridiculously fast ascension to the top, and is now dangerously close to the duets of France and has already moved ahead of Belarus. For the record, the de Brouwer sisters obtained 80.3033 in technical duet and 80.2000 at the 2017 world championships, and were ranked well below many nations that they are nowadays comfortably beating. In Tokyo, they finished with a 82.3997 in technical duet and 84.4000 in free. Watch out for these two, they are coming.

Finally, France managed to come out with a medal of each color, with gold in highlight, silver in free team, and bronze in technical team.  Uzbekistan earned bronze in free team and silver in highlight. Japan was the only contender in the free combination and won gold by default with its ‘Mermaids’ routine.

For all results and some videos of the competition, click here. The next FINA World Series installment will be in Slovakia from May 11-13.

Article by Christina Marmet

Photo :フォート・キシモト (Fort Kishimoto)

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