An international competition is happening this weekend!
The inaugural virtual World Series competition will air on FINA TV on Saturday and Sunday, where 12 nations will participate. The athletes have already competed their routines three weeks ago, and the judges scored them two weeks ago. As a result of this unique setting, swimmers will actually watch themselves compete live and receive their scores. Further information on the competition’s logistics is available here.
This first leg of the FINA Artistic Swimming World Series (ASWS), and hopefully not the last this time, marks the first international competition after nearly one year. Last time out in Paris, the U.S. team beat France with a 89.2333, only to be disqualified a minute later. Its free duet received its highest score in eight years. Ukraine looked ready to (finally) medal at the Olympics. Pairs from the Netherlands, Great Britain, Israel, Liechtenstein and Switzerland showed new choreographies in their hunt to qualify to the Games a few months later… We all know what happened next.
Sadly, not as many nations decided to participate in this season opener hosted by the U.S. Maybe it was too early in the year. Or maybe it was for strategic purposes, with the Olympic Games Qualification Tournament originally set for March. Let’s hope more teams embrace this virtual format as the season continues.
Overall, this meet will give us a good preview of how a sample of countries are looking after a year of no competitions and interrupted training. Undoubtedly, all eyes will be on the home team, one of the contenders to qualify in team and duet to Tokyo.
DUETS & MIXED DUETS
The duet competition will probably be the most interesting here, with the top pairs from the U.S., Liechtenstein, Portugal, Colombia, and San Marino all looking to measure up against one another before the qualifiers, now scheduled in May. Lara Mechnig and Marluce Schierscher from Liechtenstein were definitely trending up at their last outing in March 2020, reaching an all-time best score of 81.3667, and moving ahead of their most direct opponents. The duets from Portugal and Colombia have not competed since July 2019, so it will be interesting to see how they both look after so much time away.
Belarus has also entered two duets. Neither are its top pair (Vasilina Khandoshka/Daria Kulagina) that will compete for an Olympic spot, but it will be interesting to see what sort of depth the country has. Rounding out the duet field is Sweden, a nation we don’t see often on the senior stage.
The mixed duet events will showcase three different pairs from Spain. Its senior duet of Emma Garcia and Pau Ribes will swim in both technical and free events. Leyre Abadia and Fernando Diaz del Rio will compete alongside them in tech, while the junior duet of Maria Bofill and Dennis Gonzalez will be in free. South Korea will be represented by a club to join the Spanish athletes in the technical event, with Byun Jaejun and Kim Hyobin. Of note, Byun competed in FINA’s Virtual Challenge back in December, and has already swam in the ASWS circuit back in 2018.
What will be most thrilling to watch here will be the men’s solo events, specially introduced for this meet. Although they will not count towards the ASWS rankings and points, it is a fantastic opportunity to showcase male talent. Byun will face off Diaz del Rio in technical solo, where they are expected to swim the same elements as women, while the U.S.‘ Bill May will compete against Gonzalez in free solo. Sure, May had announced his retirement from elite after the 2019 World Championships, but as he also likes to say, “Never say never.”
The women solo events will be highlighted by Canada‘s Jacqueline Simoneau, who also hasn’t competed since July 2019. For the U.S., Nikki Dzurko, who recently returned to the senior team, will swim in the technical event, while World finalist Anita Alvarez is expected in the free category. Other familiar names in the lineup include Lara Mechnig (Liechtenstein) and Kyra Hoevertsz (Aruba). Belarus will once again have two entries with Vera Butsel and Marharyta Kiryliuk. Australia and Spain have both entered their junior soloists, Zoe Poulis and Teresa Bellver, respectively. Sweden will also make an appearance with Clara Ternstrom, who was the soloist at the 2018 and 2019 Junior European Championships.
Unfortunately, the team events will not be so competitive. Only Belarus has entered the technical team event, after the Americans ultimately decided to keep their new choreography under wraps a bit longer. In the free team, the U.S. will this time be the sole competitor.
The free combination will feature Spain‘s junior team and Aruba. The Spanish are entered in the highlight as well, and will face the U.S, swimming in the event for the very first time. The Americans took advantage of a new rule, allowing for up to two male swimmers to swim in the combo and highlight events in ASWS meets only. Bill May will thus be the first male to swim on a national team routine in a FINA-sanctioned event.
The broadcast will start on FINA TV at 11:00 am US Eastern Time on both days. More information on the competition is available here.
*This article was edited to reflect a change in the technical team event. The U.S. will not participate in the event as previously written.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Cover photo by natation_synchro_fc
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