The duet events in Budapest will probably be the most interesting, exciting, and intense of the whole competition. Not so much for what’s at stake here, although the fight for a medal will certainly be one to watch. But mostly for what’s at stake in one month.
These European Championships do not serve as Olympic qualifiers. The actual Qualification Tournament is scheduled for June 10-13 in Barcelona. However, this meet will finally give us a good idea of how most of the European pairs are looking, and who has high chances to make it to Tokyo.
Consequently, a lot of attention should be paid to the middle of these European rankings. A dozen pairs or so here are contenders to qualify for the Tokyo Games. Sadly, there are not enough quotas for all.
Before discussing that, let’s start with the medal contenders.
Russia is the obvious favorite to win two more European titles. Svetlana Romashina and Svetlana Kolesnichenko surprised everybody by unveiling a brand new technical routine a few weeks ago at the Kazan World Series.
The pair had originally created a special Tokyo-themed routine for the Olympics. They swam it throughout the 2019 season, and won World gold with it. However with the postponement of the Games and the WADA ban on the Russian Federation, they decided to make some strategic, and patriotic, changes. They now swim to the song “With Russia From Love” from the band Little Big.
The Russians are also set to compete in the free duet for the first time since the 2019 Gwangju World Championships. There, they had shown a new choreography to the theme of Spiders. Did they keep it, or will they surprise us again with a new routine?
Ukraine is a shoe-in for silver, particularly with the strong pair of Marta Fiedina and Anastasiya Savchuk. The two debuted together back in 2019, and are an unexpected yet extraordinary match. They won two World bronze medals that season, and are continuously improving in their hunt for an Olympic medal.
The Ukrainians are also already qualified for Tokyo. These championships gives them the opportunity to test out their Olympic routines and to finally compete again.
As for who will get the bronze, it is wide open. Again, Italy was forced to withdraw its top squad from the competition following Linda Cerruti’s injury. The nation will still be present in the event with Marta Murru and Veronica Gallo. Both contributed to the 13-15 and junior team in the past. For the last few years, they have been members of Italy’s reserve team. They should still qualify to the duet finals, but are unlikely to contend for a medal against some of the more experienced pairs.
Furthermore, Greece’s duet of Evangelia Platanioti and Evangelia Papazoglou will not participate in either duet events. Finally, Charlotte and Laura Tremble from France will also not be in attendance, as the nation did not send anybody to Budapest.
So, who could potentially stand on the podium? On paper, the two favorites are Spain and Austria.
Spain is a bit of a question mark as it is banking on yet a new pair with Ona Carbonell, Alisa Ozhogina, and Iris Tio. The Spanish Federation posted its convocation, indicating Carbonell and Tio would swim together only in the technical event. However, this Catalan news media stated that Carbonell would only compete in the technical team in Budapest, and that the duet would be Ozhogina and Tio.
Tio needs no introduction. She already was the soloist for the nation at the 2018 European Championship. One of Spain’s most promising talents for the last few years, she has since become a steady contributor to the national team at only 18. It is absolutely not a surprise to see her added to the duet in this Olympic season.
Ozhogina, on the other hand, is obviously a bit of a revelation. Her presence in this event is a testament to her impressive comeback story. After a brief stint on the junior national team, the 20-year-old joined the senior squad in 2017. After competing at the World Championships that year, she then saw very little international action in 2018. She ultimately moved to Moscow to train at “Trud” for a little over a year. It is one of the best clubs in the nation, fostering the likes of Svetlana Romashina or Natalia Ischenko, and more recently Varvara Subbotina.
Afterwards, Ozhogina competed for her home club of CN Sevilla in the 2019 World Series in Kazan and Barcelona before joining the Spanish national team again in the fall. Clearly, her return to Spain was extremely successful as she’s seemingly carved herself a spot in both Olympic events.
Finally, Carbonell took on the challenge of returning to the elite level after having her first child. Although technically, she didn’t really miss any meet as the whole team hasn’t competed since Gwangju either. Originally, she had not planned for Tokyo at all, but the postponement of the Olympics played in her favor. With this new opportunity, she resumed training with the team last fall, and now looks poised to make it to her third Olympics.
All in all, the young Ozhogina/Tio pairing has a promising potential for the country in the future. The Spanish are also amongst those already qualified to Tokyo in duet. These championships will be a great first test for these three, no matter who ends up actually swimming on Monday.
Austria’s Anna Maria and Eirini Alexandri have already had a stellar season-opener performance. They unveiled two new choreographies at the Budapest World Series. Their tech revolved around a “Battle” theme, while the free routine was about “Devil Dolls.” The sisters actually received a career-best score of 89.3001 in the latter, two points higher than in Gwangju.
With such scoring potential and in the absence of their closest rivals from the event, the Austrians have high chances of winning their first European medal.
Now, for the bloodbath. Many nations have put all their energy in the duets ahead of the Olympic qualifiers. The few we’ve already seen this year showed tremendous improvement.
Israel‘s Eden Blecher and Shelly Bobritsky also revealed two new routines at the Budapest World Series. And, they didn’t come to play. They posted quite massive, career-high scores, both several points higher than their previous records. Most notably, their free score of 85.1332 would have ultimately put them in the World Championships final in 2019. Their regular work with Spanish coaches Anna Tarrés and Bet Fernandez obviously continues to pay off. At the previous European Championships in 2018, the Israelis barely missed qualifying to the free duet final. This will not happen here.
Lara Mechnig and Marluce Schierscher from Liechtenstein have also performed both of their routines across two World Series meets this season. The pair has been on an upward trend since the 2020 French Open, and is again amongst those realistically in the fight for the remaining quotas to Tokyo.
Conversely, some other Olympic contenders have kept a low profile up until now. Bregje and Noortje de Brouwer from the Netherlands will make their season debut, just like Great Britain‘s Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe. Both pairs last competed in March 2020, and likely have some surprises in store for us.
Similarly, fans have yet to see Belarus‘ Olympic hopeful duet of Vasilina Khandoshka and Daria Kulagina, who have not competed since 2019. Khandoshka and Kulagina did already swim in a few World Series that year for their club. However, they had to wait until Kulagina’s citizenship change was finalized to compete together on the international scene. The two train at “Trud” in Moscow under the leadership of Elena Voronova, Honored Coach of Russia.
The new duet from Germany of Marlene Bojer and Michelle Zimmer will make its competitive debut in Budapest. This will be the first time they actually swim a duet together, even both are veterans on the German team. With good timing and a sprinkle of luck, Zimmer moved into the duet following Daniela Reinhardt’s retirement last fall. The Germans will unveil a brand new free program, “A Big Part of a Big Sun,” which is very dear to their hearts.
Switzerland‘s duet is also very much aiming to move up the European rankings and to make a strong statement ahead of the Olympic qualifiers. Vivienne Koch and Joelle Peschl competed at Swiss Nationals last month, receiving 81.8719 in tech and 83.4999 in free. They showed a new technical routine, revolving around the sea and mermaids. They nonetheless kept their free choreography already shown at the 2020 French Open.
All in all, it’s near impossible to predict how most of these Olympic-hopeful duets will fare against one another. Which makes these two events even more exciting. Austria and the Netherlands should theoretically be ahead of the pack in terms of scoring. But the rest of the rankings are very much up in the air, especially after such a long time.
Can Great Britain, with a career-high of 84.300 in 2020, fend off Israel now reaching 85? With Liechtenstein’s recent rise, how will it place in regards to Switzerland, with whom they also share a pool with? Will all this extra time have benefited Germany’s new duet in its Olympic quest? Who else could potentially increase its scores by several points at once?
Of course, we cannot discard the growing quantity of underdogs coming up, ready to break more records. Serbia‘s pair of Jelena Kontic and Nevena Dimitrijevic is coming off two strong performances in the World Series Circuit, and has never been so close to the 80 points mark. Slovakia‘s Nada Daabousova, Diana Miskechova and Chiara Diky also just reached some of their best scores to date in the Budapest World Series. They too are inching closer to 80.
Maria Beatriz Goncalves and Cheila Vieira from Portugal, and Jasmine Verbena and Jasmine Zonzini from San Marino should be in the conversation as well. The Portuguese only showed their technical routine at the virtual World Series back in January, and have had plenty of time to improve since. Much like Switzerland, Verbena and Zonzini competed at their own nationals at the end of March. It will be interesting to see if they can replicate that performance in Budapest.
The rest of the duet field includes Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, and Lithuania. Finland actually will have a duet at the European Championships for the first time since 2012. Sini Tuuli and Linnea Pitkänen will represent the nation there. They, along with the pair from Lithuania, will only swim in the free event.
The competition schedule, and all the information to follow the competition, are available here.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
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