The Spanish Open, the final leg of the FINA World Series before the Super Final, is set to begin tomorrow in Barcelona. This meet is shaping up to be one of the most exciting ones on the entire ASWS circuit as we can expect an incredible showing from many of the top teams in the world, and a few other season debuts for a handful of countries.
Russia is in Barcelona with its top senior team, which is absolutely fantastic as the Russians usually don’t compete as much in one season. It is possible head coach Tatyana Pokrovskaya is testing out her swimmers as much as possible this year before heading into the Olympic year and selecting who her top eight will be for Tokyo. Whatever the strategy is, we are all in for incredible performances anyways.
Needless to say, the Russians are just coming off a successful showing at the European Cup in front of their home crowd in St. Petersburg, where they punched their tickets to Tokyo in both the duet and team events. They are the obvious and clear favorites to win both team events here, no questions asked.
The women’s duet will not be in Barcelona, but the mixed duet of Aleksandr Maltsev and Maya Gurbanberdieva will be. We missed both of them in St. Petersburg as the latter was ill and the two had to withdraw. They are however not unveiling anything new quite yet and continue to keep everything under wraps.
The senior team of Ukraine will be back out again as a full team since the Hellas Beetles Cup in early April, and is set to swim in all the team events for the first time this season. The Ukrainians should unveil their new free combination routine, which has looked lovely in training with high-flying throws that not many nations can top. The free team appears to be the same as last season, and they have kept their “rotating wheel” deckwork that was easily a fan favorite. We can also expect the duet of Marta Fiedina and Anastasiya Savchuk, who also just qualified the nation to Tokyo, as well as Fiedina in solo.
The home team Spain will have both of its junior and senior squads out across essentially all the events. We have seen all routines from the senior team already this year both in the world series and the European Cup, but of course the Spanish will aim to get their scores higher and closer Ukraine, especially in the team events as the world championships are quickly approaching, where two more Olympic spots in team are up for grabs. In the free duet, we should expect to see Ona Carbonell paired with Paula Ramirez for the first time this season, while Ramirez will swim the tech duet with Sara Saldana as usual.
Carbonell has already advertised her new technical solo routine on social media, where she uses a speech from Nelson Mandela on sports. This is undoubtedly an innovative idea to not use music or a song for a routine, although she will not be the only one doing so this weekend in Barcelona. It’s likely a good strategy to change routines as the ‘Snake’ choreography did not allow her to stay ahead of Japan’s Yukiko Inui anymore this year, but the elements however obviously remain the same, and it is where the main struggle has been for her so far. Once again this year, Carbonell has worked on this choreography with Virginie Dedieu.
As for the juniors, don’t miss out on the free team routine to the music from the movie Avatar, which has a truly lovely and interesting choreography. The combo is a reworked version of last year’s senior free team routine that revolved around the life of the factory, and it kept most of its original moves and was very nicely converted into a combo routine. Keep your eyes out for all of Spain’s mixed duets as well, with not only the senior pair of Pau Ribes and Emma Garcia, but with also its junior mixed pair (where the alternate is also a boy!), and the duet of C.N Kallipolis which is poised to compete internationally in the 13-15 age group later this summer.
We cannot count Japan out of course, but fans will see its ‘B’ squad in Barcelona. Its level should still be quite high, with fun routines like a highlight routine to the soundtrack of “The Greatest Show.” This Japanese team will however realistically not factor into the battle between Ukraine and Spain for a medal in those events, even more so as Russia is obviously untouchable for gold.
As mentioned above, Carbonell will not be the only one presenting a ‘no-music’ solo at this competition, as Anita Alvarez from the U.S. has been working on the same concept for the last few months for her free routine. She will swim to a piece from Jessie J called “R.O.S.E Confessional,” which she uses to take us through her meaningful and personal story. Alvarez performed the solo already at the gala during the Synchro America Open last weekend, and she essentially had the entire pool watching in training here on Wednesday. She will compete this routine on Saturday morning, so watch out for her likely emotional performance.
The Americans are just coming off a strong first showing at the Synchro America Open last weekend, but will want to improve on both of their duet and team routines amongst this strong field. Flying to Barcelona straight away and competing two weekends in a row in two different continents is pretty tough, but it is a good strategy as it will prepare them for the Pan American Games of this summer that will essentially one week after the end of world in Peru.
Mexico will (finally!) make its first outing of the season in the duet and team events. The Mexicans have been very secretive about their preparation, and were even originally supposed to compete at the Japan Open earlier this year but did not end up making the trip. Their new free team routine seems to revolve around the theme of space, with a little “Houston, we have a problem” thrown in there. In training, the Mexicans looked like what we have come to expect of them, with clean and great execution, and sky-high throws. The technical team used ‘Caravan Palace’-style of music, and once again the routine and elements looked strong, sharp and precise.
The new duet pair of Nuria Diosdado and Joana Jimenez will also make its international debut. The two have been swimming together for a little less than a year following the retirement of veteran Karem Achach. Their tech routine is to the known song “Bella Ciao” from El Profesor, but I unfortunately did not get a chance to get a glimpse of the free duet routine in training.
France is ending its world series route in Barcelona before likely heading to the Super Final meet in mid-June. The French last competed at the China Open where they received some of their season-high scores in both duet and team events, and surely will look to replicate that here especially against Mexico and the U.S.
Indeed, one of the most interesting and exciting part of the team events will be to witness how these three nations all rank against one another. All three are realistically fighting for one of these final Olympic team spots, but sadly and very likely not all three will make it. We have already seen the scoring potential of France and the U.S. “by themselves”, and we know that Mexico is capable of reaching those scores, so this competition will be very intense and thrilling.
Israel and Great Britain will compete again following great showings at the European Cup at the beginning of the month. Rounding out the team events are all countries making their first appearances of the season in a major international competition, with Chile, Guatemala, Poland, and Portugal. Unfortunately, I couldn’t see much of the latter two in training, but Chile was training some impressive acrobatics, while Guatemala has a ‘Penguin dive’ at the start of its free combination and it’s amazing, so make sure to check them out.
Another exciting event will be the mixed duets, with eight routines in tech and nine entries in free across international and national entries. The top three mixed duets in the world are set to compete in Barcelona, so do not miss them.
The star of the show will undoubtedly be the legend himself Bill May, obviously representing the U.S., who will swim only in the tech event with his new partner Natalia Vega. The two just had a great first outing at the Synchro America Open where they introduced their new routine set to a popular South Korean song, poised to be a crowd’s favorite in Gwangju. As already mentioned, Russia‘s Maltsev and Gurbanberdieva will compete and will be also be joined by Italy‘s Giorgio Minisini and Manila Flamini but only in the free event once more.
Guatemala also has a mixed pair in the competition for the first time ever! One more country in the mixed duet event is always so great and helpful for the growth and development of it. France will also show off one of its club mixed duet from the Occitanie region, while Russia will also have a club mixed duet from the Republic of Tatarstan entered. Turkey will only compete in the mixed free duet. And once again, don’t miss out on all the Spanish mixed pairs, especially with all this up and coming talent.
Aside from the team events, we can also expect to see a wide variety of nations in the solo and duet events. Austria, Belarus, Liechtenstein, Portugal, Serbia, and Turkey are all sending the same swimmers who just competed at the European Cup in the duets, although we should see most of them in the solo as well, an event not included at the European Cup. We should also get to witness some international season debuts from Aruba, Chile, Guatemala, and Slovenia as well, while fans will be treated to routines from the Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, Poland and Slovakia once more.
If you’re in Barcelona in person, don’t miss out on some of the club routines as the club level in Spain is quite impressive, so pay attention to the likes of C.N. Kallipolis, C.N. Granollers, Real Canoe N.C, A.D. Sincro Retiro, C.N. Metropole or C.N. Sincro Sevilla among others.
Aside from the online streaming options, some of the events will also be on live television (!) on the Catalan network, which is absolutely thrilling but mostly key to the growth of the sport and to get young children started in local clubs.
Article by Christina Marmet
Cover photo by Liz Corman.