Previewing the 2019 Japan Open

The fourth leg of the FINA World Series is about to get started in Tokyo, running from April 27 – 29. The field for this meet in the Olympic events is particularly outstanding, and it could turn out to be a strong preview of what we might see at worlds later this year.

The duet events will be exceptional, with top pairs from Russia, China, Japan, Italy, Spain, Canada, Austria, France and Great Britain. We are really only missing Ukraine, Greece and the Netherlands at this point, and here is one hell of a likely final at worlds.

Russia‘s Svetlana Kolesnichenko and Svetlana Romashina made their debut last weekend at the Russian Nationals. They naturally won with their new technical duet choreography, which will certainly be a crowd favorite here with its Japanese dance music, and their Aliens free routine. They are a shoo-in for gold here, and really in any competition ever.

Jiang Tingting and Jiang Wenwen will represent China and compete for the first time this year. The two won the Asian Games last season, and placed second at the 2017 FINA World Championships. The Jiang twins have been on the international stage for over a decade now, and their goal remains to keep inching closer to the Russians. The only thing that we can truly hope for is for new choreographies, as they have been swimming their flamenco tech and Swan Lake free routines for nearly six years now. Please.

Japan will be represented by Yukiko Inui and Megumu Yoshida, Italy by Linda Cerruti and Costanza Ferro, and Spain by Ona Carbonell, Sara Saldana and Paula Ramirez. We have already seen all three pairs go against each other in free duet at the French Open, where Japan had the edge, but Spain and Italy finished within 0.3 points of each other. Expect another tight battle here for the bronze, although Japan is the strongest contender out of the three.

Austria‘s Anna Maria and Eirini Alexandri also just competed in Kazan where they finished only two points behind Italy, so they will certainly want to repeat that result and keep building on it. It will mostly be interesting to see how they do against Canada‘s Claudia Holzner and Jacqueline Simoneau, who have the same scoring abilities as the Austrians. The two only competed against each other once last season at the Canadian Open, where the home pair had a clear advantage in both technical and free duet. Either way, both of these duets may also put pressure on the likes of Spain or Italy if they were to falter.

France‘s Charlotte and Laura Tremble will also be in the hunt to challenge the status quo, and are looking to build up on their scores from the French Open where they presented their new free routine to the theme of Amazons. Since they are only focusing on the duet events this season, along with the highlight, progress should be expected. Great Britain‘s Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe will also be back out for the first time since Paris, where they unveiled a new technical choreography. They had already improved by three points since 2018, and they will certainly want to maintain themselves in this new scoring range and improve on it.

Fans will get to see the Olympian duet of Monica Arango and Estefania Alvarez from Colombia for the first time this year. We did not get to see them much last season as they did not compete in any world series meets, and focused on the South American Games and the Central and Caribbean Games, which unfortunately did not have the greatest TV or online coverage. It was however a successful season for them as they beat Brazil in duet, and improved by over three points in both tech and free events. It will be exciting to actually watch them again and witness their progress for ourselves.

In the team events, it will be thrilling to see Japan and Spain go head to head for the first time this season. Japan will unveil its brand new free team routine to the theme of “Japanese Festivals,” while Spain is also supposed to reveal its new free team routine. It’s quite interesting as both of these teams already had new free routines last year, but decided to go for the same strategy and create another one this season to keep pushing the athletes. These two countries really only competed against each other last season at the Japan Open in the technical event, and Japan was ahead by 1.5 points.

Once again it’s tricky to compare scores from one meet to another between two different nations, but let’s just note both the countries season-high scores in 2018. Japan recorded a 90.9357 in tech at the Asian Games, and a 92.3667 at the Canadian Open. Spain’s high scores came at the European Championships with 89.8716 in tech and 92.1000 in free. It could really go either way here.

These two nations are certainly strong contenders for a podium-finish, but we cannot count China out. The Chinese are coming with what appears to be a province team or a ‘B’ squad, but it hard to exactly say as start lists are not available at the time of this writing. Whether that is the case or not, they are certainly challengers for a medal. As we saw at the 2017 world championships where they ended up winning silver or gold in all team events with province teams, we can certainly expect a high level performance from this squad. If however it’s China’s A team – which I still highly doubt – then it’s over for everybody.

The fight will be extremely exciting also between Canada and France as both nations know they have to finish ahead of the other in the hopes of qualifying to the 2020 Olympics, in the event Canada does not qualify under the Americas quota. The Canadians had a successful first outing a few weeks ago at the Hellas Beetles Cup, where it unveiled three new team choreographies. France kept its ‘Emotions’ free team routine while it decided to work on a new technical routine this season to music by Aretha Franklin. The French have however had to deal with a blow a few weeks before this meet, with the temporary loss of team captain Solene Lusseau to a foot injury. They consequently have had to make changes throughout both routines.

Of course, do not miss the mixed duet events either, as this will be the first time this season that Russia (Maltsev/Gurbanberdieva) will compete against Italy (Minisini/Flamini).  Japan (Abe/Adachi) and Spain (Ribes/Garcia/Ferreras) will also battle it out for a podium finish.

The competition starts tomorrow, April 27th at 2:30pm local time. All information on how to watch (live stream on YouTube!) is available here.

Article by Christina Marmet.

Cover photo courtesy of Canada Artistic Swimming

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