The Canadian national team finally made its 2018 international debuts this past weekend in Surrey during the Canada Open as part of the FINA World Series. Fans also finally got to witness the real first match-up between Ukraine and Japan in the team events this year, and France showed great progress in all the events.
The Canadians have faced a few challenges before the start of this new season. They lost their centralized training center which allowed the national team athletes to train together all year round like many of the top nations across the world. Most of the swimmers returned to their local club teams to train separately, and met frequently throughout the pre-season to put together and practice the routines for international competitions. Additionally, Canada faced a high turnover after the 2017 FINA World Championships with only four athletes out of 10 returning this year.
The Canadians unveiled numerous new choreographies in Surrey in front of their home crowd. The new technical routine was set to the song “Less Talk More Art” by KOIL x Vito Fun feat Nunzio Sisto, while its free team program revolved around a climbing theme. Both routines had a few synchronization mistakes and can be cleaner, but the team should be excited with the resulting two bronze medals and scores that held up to those from last year. The lifts and throws were a bit less spectacular than what Canada has gotten us used to in the past, but it was however good to see what the nation has been up to since going through these changes.
In technical solo, Jacqueline Simoneau finished quite close to the Ukrainian Yelyzaveta Yakhno with only a 0.6 points difference for a first time out. Simoneau swam a new routine set to the cover song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Lorde. As always, Simoneau draws the viewers in with her captivating presence and maturity in the water, and showed very solid technique in her elements. Her free solo is set to the same music as last season – “Experience” by Ludovico Einaudi -, but it is a different choreography. She added two more bronze medals to her collection with these two events.
Halle Pratt, who was the junior soloist for Canada at the 2016 FINA Jr. World Championships, also swam in both solo events. While a bit less shakier technically in her elements and spins than Simoneau, Pratt also displayed great maturity and presence in the water.
Finally, Simoneau was paired with Claudia Holzner in the duet events just like last season. Their technical duet was to the theme of hands, while their free routine was centered around an Inukshuk theme. Inukshuk are human-shaped stone markers developed by indigenous people in the Canadian arctic. Just like in the other events, the pair won two bronze medals, and scored above 88 for the first time in the technical event.
This competition also marked the first matchup between the teams from Ukraine and Japan this season. Both nations have been neck and neck over the last few years, and always seem to be battling it out for the bronze medals on the international podiums. In Surrey, it was quite tight in the technical team event with Ukraine barely edging out Japan by 0.3886. The Japanese actually scored 0.8 points above in the technical elements, but it wasn’t enough to overtake the Ukrainians in execution and impression. In free team, Japan had a bit of a rough start with a missed throw and a few other shakier highlights throughout the routine, so Ukraine was able to overtake it by nearly a point.
The Japanese did however comfortably dominate the solo and duet events against the Ukrainians. Yukiko Inui won two golds in the solo events, and she was newly paired with Megumu Yoshida in the technical duet event. Yoshida has been alternate all year but got a chance to swim here and delivered, so the internal competition for the 2020 Olympic duet got all the more interesting. Inui was still paired with Kanami Namakami for the free event, which they won by over a point.
Ukraine’s Yakhno and Anastasiya Savchuk swam both of their new choreographies they had already previously introduced at the Budapest Open; because as we know, the Ukrainians like to switch up routines halfway through the year. Their technical duet is set to a remix of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5, and the Aleksiiva twins are now swimming the previous tech program Yakhno and Savchuk had at the French Open in March. The latter’s free routine is also new since Paris, but they had once again showed it first at the Budapest Open.
France was back out for the first time since the Japan Open and showed great progress. Its technical team improved by nearly 1.5 points, and its free team scored above 87 and only 0.43 behind the Canadian team, which is a huge deal for the French. A few judges even went over 9.0 in impression, and such scores can only be encouraging for the future as they are aiming for a qualifying spot for Tokyo.
The duet selection has become even more of a headache after this competition. Charlotte and Laura Tremble have had the edge in the technical duet event all season, while Maureen Jenkins and Eve Planeix have been usually above in the free event. Here, these rankings were entirely reversed, with the Tremble sisters scoring their best score ever to finish ahead in free with 86.0667, while Jenkins and Planeix showed huge progress in technical for a 84.5020, their best tech score yet as well as a duet and ahead of the twins. Both pairs are improving in the events they were behind on, and it is difficult right now to figure out how one can be picked over the other.
The U.S. had its junior team back out for the first time since the China Open in April. The nation has struggled to keep a stable senior team, so the junior national team is given a chance to compete in the world series circuit this season. The Americans swim to fast remix of “It’s Raining Men”, while their free team is to the music of the movie Moana. They placed fifth in both events, but earned silver in free combination.
Austria was only present in solo and duets. Anna-Maria and Eirini Alexandri improved tremendously in technical duet by scoring above 86 for the first time. South Korea introduced a new mixed duet to the world stage in the technical event with Gabin Lee and Jaejun Byun, both still in the junior category as 15-year-olds. Serbia once again had its duet and solo entered in the competition; this is the fifth ASWS meet for the small nation.