Canada, Mexico Qualify to 2020 Olympics

Canada has qualified to the Olympics next year after winning the duet and team events at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. The Canadians only had a duet in 2016, after missing qualifying a team for the first time in the country’s history. By placing second in the duet, Mexico has also qualified itself to Tokyo in that event.

Nations only competed in the two Olympic events at this competition, and the combined scores of the technical and free routines determined the final rankings.

The Canadians came into these Pan American Games as the heavy favorites to win both events, and they certainly delivered with strong performances across all four routines. With a combined score of 179.6731 in team and 180.0343 in duet, Canada will be back to the Olympics in both events next year.

It particularly touching to see the emotional reactions of Claudia Holzner and Jacqueline Simoneau, particularly after their technical duet swim. If you have watched the movie “Parfaites” (if you haven’t yet, go do it now), which followed the journey of the Canadian team last Olympic cycle, you just know how much this must mean for Holzner after her very long journey in the sport and over six years on the senior national team. Additionally, this will be Simoneau’s second Olympics, but a first for everyone else on the roster.

Mexico placed second in both events, and Nuria Diosdado and Joana Jimenez qualified the nation to the Olympics in the duet. Similarly to Holzner, Jimenez was very emotional and looked ready to burst from much happiness while on the podium. While these were her third Pan American Games, this season marked her first swimming in the duet with Diosdado after many years spent as a reserve and about eight years on the national team already.

The Mexicans overall had a fantastic showing in Lima and recorded massive scores across all four events but particularly in the teams (86.2910 in tech, and 88.8333 in free) which would have placed them in eighth place in free only a few weeks ago in Gwangju at the world championships.

As already mentioned during our worlds’ coverage, they had a fairly rocky year dealing with illnesses and injuries which prevented them from training and competing as much as they would have liked.

With a hopefully smoother 2020 season, all new routines out and tried, and with a handful of likely modifications and improvement, the Mexicans are certainly right in the mix and cannot be counted out to earn a spot in Tokyo in team.

The U.S. won bronze in both the duet and team events with much cleaner performances, particularly in the free duet, than it had in Gwangju. There were also further changes within the technical team roster, with Anita Alvarez back in the routine and Nicole Goot out.

In the free event, the Americans nailed their risky throw for the first time in competition this season, where the flier jumps straight up above to fall back down and go for a second throw. Overall, their scores were also on the rise in Lima, and they are definitely positioning themselves as the underdog for a spot in Tokyo after showing so much progress and potential in less than a year, with a new coaching staff and new choreographies.

Brazil put out solid performances, especially considering the circumstances of having to replace Maria Clara Lobo Coutinho in all the duet and team routines in essentially one week. In the duet, Laura Miccuci stepped in, marking her first time competing in the senior duet, and she handled the pressure like a veteran as the Brazilians managed to officially move ahead in front of Colombia again – the latter had the edge at the 2018 South American Games. The Brazilians did however receive yet again a two-point penalty in the free team because of too many acrobatics just like in Gwangju.

The other nations in attendance for the team events had skipped worlds to focus on this particular competition, and it was nice to see countries there that we rarely get to watch, like Cuba, El Salvador or Peru.

Peru, coached by former Brazil’s head coach Maura Xavier since January, was definitely one of the most pleasant surprises of this competition. The Peruvians improved by five points in technical team since their performance one year ago at the South American Games, and by seven points since the last Pan American Games in 2015.

Similarly, their free team, which was quite engaging and dynamic (see video below), and free duet scores increased by over three points since last year. All of this probably felt even sweeter to them as it all happened in front of their sold-out, cheering and supportive home crowd. This is yet another team to watch in the next few seasons, and that we will hopefully see a lot more of in bigger international competitions.

El Salvador was another nation we rarely get to see outside of the South American competitions. A little glitch in the free duet competition caused a pretty funny reaction from swimmers Fernanda Cruz Pineda and Grecia Mendoza Mendez. The two initially received 84 points by accident after their routine, likely due to a judge typing a number wrong, and even they looked like they knew this was absolutely incorrect.

Cuba competed for the first time as a team this season and fared well. However, its duet of Gabriela Alpajon Reyes and Soila Valdès Castillo, which just swam in Gwangju, struggled a bit more in duet after recording a zero on the first technical element. 

Aruba‘s duet of Kyra Hoevertsz and Abigail de Veer, another pair that was in South Korea, managed to move ahead of Chile’s Isidora Letelier and Natalie Lubascher in the technical duet, thus reversing the order from worlds where Aruba ranked behind Chile. Finally, this was the very first time that Guatemala sent a team to the Pan American Games, and we can only hope we will see more of this team in the future as well. 

All in all, it was very impressive and inspiring to see many of the athletes in Lima who were essentially coming back from over two weeks in South Korea for the world championships. All of them had to handle with the travel, the time difference, the fatigue and the weather change, so their performances and competitiveness in Lima was even more remarkable.

The results and a few videos of the routines (most of them were recently blocked) from this meet are available here.

Article by Christina Marmet.

Cover photo courtesy of  Christopher Morris / COC.

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