The 2019 international season finally gets underway this weekend in Montreuil, France, for the first leg of the FINA World Series. This year’s edition is not as stacked as last year’s as most of the top teams decided to hide their new routines a little longer, but this should be exciting nonetheless.
The big news is undoubtedly the return of Ona Carbonell to competition. Carbonell took most of 2018 off to focus on her studies and other personal projects, but is back in the water looking like she never left. She will only swim in the technical solo event with her “Snake” routine from 2017. While Carbonell is coming in as the heavy favorite for gold there, fans will also be treated to performances by some of the best soloists in the world, including Japan’s Yukiko Inui, France’s Eve Planeix, whose new free routine will likely charm the home crowd, Vasilina Khandoshka from Belarus, Kate Shortman from Great Britain, and the young Marta Fiedina from Ukraine, in the absence of Yelyzaveta Yakhno in that event.
The duet events will really be where the excitement takes place at this competition, as there is really no clear favorite for the gold and nobody’s ranking is set in stone as a result of the increased parity.
The favorites for the podium are Ukraine, Japan, Spain and Italy, and it could really go in any direction and any order. At last year’s European Championships, Ukraine, Italy and Spain were within reach of each other, although Ukraine was a bit more ahead of the other two, but a few things have changed since.
Ukraine‘s technical duet for this meet will not include Yelyzaveta Yakhno, but rather Anastasiya Savchuk and Marta Fiedina, who served as alternate last year. The two will compete a new routine there. In the free duet, 2018 junior world medalists Maryna and Vladyslava Aleksiiva will represent the nation.
Similarly, the Spanish pair has changed with the return of Carbonell. She will swim in Montreuil alongside Sara Saldana, as Paula Ramirez is nursing a minor injury. Ramirez and Saldana came within 0.2 points of the Italians in free duet at the 2018 European Championships, so the return of Carbonell could potentially boost the performance quality and score of the nation. Carbonell and Saldana will only compete in the free event with a new, intense flamenco routine that pulls the viewers in right from the start.
The Italian pair of Linda Cerruti and Costanza Ferro is overall the most experienced one here, and their experience and seniority in those events could work to their advantage while their direct competitors get their marks with their new duet partners.
Of course, Japan must be added into this mix, but it will also have a relatively new duet in Inui and Megumu Yoshida. The two started swimming together halfway through last season but did manage to maintain the country within the same scoring range as in the past. This new pairing has never competed against any of the three European nations yet, so it will be thrilling to see where everybody ends up. We can certainly anticipate a tight race for the podium.
The competition will also be thrilling to watch a bit further down the rankings amongst European nations, as the duets from France (Charlotte and Laura Tremble) and the Netherlands (Bregje and Noortje de Brouwer) will go head to head with their new and improved choreographies. The Tremble twins will keep last year’s technical routine while they will unveil a new free to the theme of the Amazons. We can expect two brand new choreographies from the Dutch pair. Continuing with twins, Kazakhstan‘s Alexandra and Yekaterina Nemich are back out in a major international meet and could challenge, especially after continuing working with Anastasia Ermakova once more this season. Don’t forget, they made it over France to free duet finals in 2017, but beating the Tremble twins here might be a long shot.
Great Britain‘s Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe will want to show off their progress and look to continue moving up in the tech event also with a new choreography. Germany’s pair of Marlena Bojer and Daniella Reinhardt will certainly be looking to maintain and settle into its new ranking ahead of Switzerland, and it has been working with Virginie Dedieu to prepare for this new season. As for the Swiss, the small country will conclude its duet selection after this competition in order to move forward with only one pair for the rest of the quad. In Montreuil, we will once again see Maxence Bellina with Maria Piffaretti compete against Vivienne Koch and Noemi Peschl.
Brazil and Argentina‘s duets will be fun to watch as we rarely get to see these two nations outside of major international competitions every other year. Israel will introduce a new free duet as Eden Blecher is now paired up with Shelly Bobritsky.
Brazil, Spain, France, Japan and Kazakhstan are all entered in the mixed duet events. The Japanese pair of Atsushi Abe and Yumi Adachi are strong contenders for the gold, and will present brand new choreographies, including a mermaid-themed tech routine. The two have been steadily on the rise over the last two seasons, and are quickly becoming world medal challengers for this season, so keep an eye out for them.
Spain split its mixed duets this year, and Emma Garcia is swimming the technical routine with Pau Ribes, while Berta Ferreras remains his partner in the free. France (!) will compete in this category for the first time since 2016 with the current junior winter national champions Quentin Rakotomalala and Madeline Philippe. Brazil will be represented once more by Renan Alcantara and Giovana Stephans, while Kazakhstan continues to show off its junior pair of Aigerim Issayeva and Olzhas Makhanbetiyarov, although only in the technical event here.
The team events unfortunately face a depleted field, especially compared to last year, as many countries are working on new choreographies and probably don’t want to unveil anything quite yet. Fans will however still get to witness a few new and exciting choreographies.
The home team France has kept its free routine once again but has reworked some parts and has improved on its throws and lifts. It however did not retain its Cleopatra technical routine from last season, and will instead unveil a fast-paced choreography set to Aretha Franklin. The Tremble twins are only focusing on the duet events this season, so we will get to see a few new faces in the French team, including second-year junior Ambre Esnault and the return of 2016 Olympian Laura Augé. France’s highlight routine remains the same to the theme of French Cancan.
Surprisingly enough, Ukraine will not be swimming every event like it usually does, but will only compete in technical team with a new routine after withdrawing from the highlight at the last minute.
It is fantastic to see Brazil compete as a team once more after a few years of transition and rebuilding. Their roster is a solid mix of Olympians and veterans with a few up-and-coming talented swimmers that already made waves in the junior category. As usual, expect high flying acrobatics from the Brazilians, and watch for their super fun Superhero combo where each swimmers wears a different costume. Similarly, we can expect a full team from Switzerland, a rare thing as the small nation doesn’t usually come out as a team this early in the season. It had to withdraw from the 2018 European Championships at the last minute due to injuries, so it will be great to finally see what the Swiss have in store for us after essentially not competing internationally for a year.
Israel has continued working with Anna Tarres this pre-season and after improving by 10 points in one year already, the nation is looking on the right path to continue to do so. The Israelis looked strong in training, ready to reveal a new free routine heavily inspired by Spain’s 2012 Olympic routine on sea monsters, which was also Tarres’ work after all. The combo is also new for them with fun, modern, party-like music, and was performed during the 2017-2018 season by the CN Kallipolis club in Barcelona. The tech and highlight remain unchanged.
Great Britain and Kazakhstan round out the field for the team events. Kazakhstan will only compete in the free team, and it is a young roster that will do so with the vast majority of the swimmers born in 2003 and 2004. A few of them were members of the 13-15 national team last season that obtained a fantastic fourth-place finish at the COMEN Cup.
It’s a three-country race in the highlight, with only Spain, France, and Israel entered. Spain will unveil a brand new, highly dynamic and explosive routine set to AC/DC “Thunderstruck.” With high flying throws, a wonderful use of flexibility on lifts and great energy, this one is bound to become a fan’s favorite. It is the only team event the nation is entered in here.
Article by Christina Marmet