2019 World Championships Preview – Mixed Duets

Today’s preview is all about the exciting and developing event, the mixed duet. Can Italy defend its world title in the technical event? Or will the defending European champion couple from Russia be able to upset and win its first world technical title? And can the Russians maintain their dominance in the free event?

Since being introduced at the world championships in 2015, the mixed duet event has steadily grown and should showcase once more many innovative and creative routines, where the different dynamics between a man and a woman are highlighted. In 2017, 10 nations swam in tech while 11 were in free, and we can only hope even more countries will compete in Gwangju. The more representation, the better.

Once again at the time of this writing, entry lists are not available (and we are six days away from the competition cool cool cool), so these are based on observations from the season and other news updates. Edits will be made if/when necessary whenever the official entries are published.

In 2017, the Italian pair of Giorgio Minisini and Manila Flamini made history by winning the nation’s first world title ever with their heartfelt and poignant routine called “A Scream from Lampedusa” in the technical event. At the 2018 European Championships, Russia‘s Aleksandr Maltsev and Maya Gurbanberdieva won both the technical and free title ahead of Italy, although by only 0.888 points in the former.

In Glasgow, the Russians unveiled their new “Tango” technical program, which they should keep for Gwangju and have competed throughout the year. Back then, it was the artistic impression of this routine that really made the difference between the two nations, as the Italians had the higher score in the elements.

Minisini and Flamini have not competed in the technical event all season, and have kept their brand new choreography under wraps to maintain the element of surprise as long as possible. They have worked with Anastasia Ermakova and Stephan Miermont on it, and Minisini recently stated they have never felt so confident before, so it’s definitely a highly anticipated routine.

[EDIT July 7, 2019: the Italian federation has published that the theme for the new technical duet of the Italians is ‘Triton’]

They did compete in the free duet with their ‘Duel’ choreography throughout the world series circuit this season and at the Super Final, but never managed to come close to beating the Russians in that event.

While the Italians will unveil a new technical routine in Gwangju, Maltsev and Gurbanberdieva will show off a new free routine after retiring the ‘Sing, Sing, Sing’ one after the world series Super Final, which they won. But just like their direct competitors, they have kept everything a secret. Of note, this will be Gurbanberdieva’s first world championships, as she was only included in the mixed duet starting last season and is Maltsev’s third partner.

The U.S. also has a new mixed duet with Bill May and Natalia Vega. In 2017, May earned two bronze medals with Kanako Kitao at the time, and is in good shape to repeat in Gwangju. The Americans have only competed in the tech event so far this year at the Synchro America Open (87.6687) and the Spanish Open (87.5144), where they performed a fun routine to Korean pop music, which will obviously be a crowd pleaser at the competition.

They have been working on a free routine centered on the story of Salomé – check out our recent interview with May and Vega to learn more. This one will certainly be a routine to watch as we can always count on the U.S. to create great choreography taking full advantage of the man/woman dimension.

While the Americans are in a strong position for bronze, the Japanese duet of Atsushi Abe and Yumi Adachi might give them a run for their money. These two have been competing extensively throughout the world series circuit in 2018 and 2019, and they have been able to maintain themselves in the high 85-86s in tech and 87-88s in free. They just wrapped up the regular season at the Super Final with 87.3446 in tech and 88.9667, scores that could quickly become threatening for the Americans, who thus cannot afford any mistakes.

Abe and Adachi have been competing two new choreographies this season, using the themes of ‘Mermaids’ for tech and ‘Jungle’ for free. Don’t miss their highlights and throws in both routines as they probably have the most impressive ones in this field, and Adachi just flies out of the water effortlessly and almost appears as if she’s floating in the air for a few seconds. They also showcase back-to-back acrobatics where each lift the other out of the water.

Spain is another nation to introduce a new mixed pair this season, with Emma Garcia taking Berta Ferreras’ spot alongside Pau Ribes. Their new free uses an electronic version of the tango music ‘La Cumparsita,’ while their tech is still to Muse’s “Feeling Good” like last season. The two have also improved this year, raising their scores by two points in tech and one point in free since the European Championships.

If we have however to talk about one most-improved mixed duet of this entire field, it has to be China‘s. Shi Haoyu made his debut at the 2017 FINA World Championships after only three years in the sport, and he has since tremendously grown quite literally, and in confidence and technical abilities.

Shi is paired in the tech duet with Zhang Yayi for a routine revolving around the Dragon, and with Cheng Wentao in free, and their scores have risen by five points in the former, and seven points in the latter (!) with a love story routine to “Legend of the Butterfly Lovers.” The Chinese pair used to be 11 points behind the Japanese, but they have closed down that gap to only two to three points now.

Another pair that was in Budapest that we should see again in Gwangju is the one from Brazil with Renan Alcantara and Giovana Stephan. They have only competed internationally once this season at the French Open, with a tech routine also very much like a tango using the song “Te He Visto Pasar” by Zoralda Marrero, and a free routine to “Perfect Jam” from the Cirque du Soleil show Zumanity.

Now onto new countries that we should see in Gwangju, with Australia, Kazakhstan, Colombia and Turkey (although it attended in 2015 but not in 2017). Australia’s new pair of Ethan Calleja and 2016 Olympian Danielle Kettlewell will only swim in the free event with their Bonnie and Clyde’ routine. Of note, Calleja only started training synchro fully about a year ago after retiring from speed swimming. The joy these two have on the pool deck and in the water is quite contagious, making it hard to not root and cheer for them.

Kazakhstan‘s duet of Aigerim Issayeva and Olzhas Makhanbetiyarov will likely only compete in the technical event as we have seen them do these last two years, and will show off a routine to “Freedom” by Pharrell Williams. Just like Calleja, Makhanbetiyarov only started synchro at 18 about a year and a half ago, after coming from water polo. Like Australia, this will be Kazakhstan’s first outing in the mixed duet at the world championships.

Gokce Akgun from Turkey has returned to the elite scene after missing out in 2016 and 2017 as he did not have a partner. We will hopefully see him again in Gwangju this time around. He was last season swimming with Rezzan Eda Tuncay, and is now with Ide Ezgi Onal. These two have however only competed in free at both of their outings this season (European Cup and Spanish Open), so it is possible we might only see them in that event.

[EDIT July 9, 2019: Akgun has published on Instagram a photo of training, and it appears he has a new partner for these world championships in Rumeysa Sude Ünal]

Finally and per social media, the mixed duet from Colombia should make its big international debut this year at worlds. Jennifer Cerquera and Gustavo Sanchez competed together last season only at the South American Championships. We unfortunately did not get many videos of that meet, but they had received 77.7174 in tech and 78.7667 in free.

Unfortunately, Greece will not send a pair this time around, as the the federation did not list any mixed duet in its official press release regarding the event. It also seems highly unlikely that we will see mixed duets from Canada or Germany, as they have not competed in that event since the last world championships and their respective federations have made no indication that they have a mixed duet ready to go to Gwangju.

Hopefully we will have some more good surprises with more nations in attendance once the entry lists come out. We did see a young pair from Guatemala at the Spanish Open this year, but their attendance at worlds is not a certainty. In 2017, we also had Panama in that event, so maybe they will return in Gwangju.

All in all, don’t miss this event as it truly does bring something different to the sport, and the rankings are not as clear cut nor dominated by the same nations as they are in the women’s duet which makes it exciting to watch even more so. Cheer for everyone, watch history in the making, and cross your fingers more and more nations attend worlds in the future – it’s looking great and diverse in the younger age groups already.

Technical mixed duets preliminaries are on July 13 at 11:00 am, and finals on July 15 at 5:00 pm. Free mixed duets preliminaries are set for July 19 at 11:00 pm, while finals will be on July 20, the last day of competition, at 5:00 pm. All times are local.

The full schedule is available here, along with any other information you may need to follow the competition.

Article by Christina Marmet

Cover photo by Pasquale Mesiano for Deepbluemedia/InsideFoto. 


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