Unlike the other events we’ve already discussed, the team events overall have a bit of a smaller field than usual. We are missing some of the usual suspects. Once again, Italy had to withdraw at the last minute. This will actually be the first time in 30 years or so that Italy does no medal in team at the European Championships.
Besides, Greece will only perform in the free combination, likely to keep its technical and free routines secret until the Olympic qualifiers in one month. Finally, France is not in Budapest at all.
Technical and Free Team
Of course Russia and Ukraine are the two big favorites to win the technical and free team, respectively. The Russians probably want to keep their new free routine well-hidden until the very last minute, and until the Games. In Budapest, they will show off their “Quadrille” choreography, which they have kept from the 2019 season.
The reigning European champions already competed in the Kazan World Series a few weeks ago. That meet marked the big return of Svetlana Romashina and Svetlana Kolesnichenko in the team routine, an event they hadn’t competed in since 2016.
Kazan also marked Aleksandra Patskevich‘s return after nearly four years. She had stepped away from the pool after the 2017 FINA World Championships. She had announced her comeback to elite in the fall of 2019 after the birth of her first child. That said, Patskevich was missing from training today, and Veronika Kalinina filled in.
This Russian team is good. Like, really good. It features six massively experienced returning Olympians, some often multiple-time champions. All have a grand total of 13 Olympic gold medals among themselves. With all eight on the roster, this team also has 85 World titles.
Ukraine will compete for the very first time in over a year. Three-time Olympian Kseniya Sydorenko will make her comeback to the Ukrainian squad team at this competition. Chasing her Olympic medal dreams, she resumed training for the elite level about a year ago. She had begun a coaching career in Slovakia, but the pull of a medal and the postponement of the Olympics really played in her favor. On the other hand Yana Nariezhna, 2019 World champion and six-time World medalist, is not on the roster anymore.
All in all, this meet will give the Ukrainians the opportunity to unveil their Olympic routines and get feedback. In turns, it will also give us a good idea of their Olympic medal chances against the Japanese, their penultimate rivals. From today’s training, they are quite high.
Spain‘s team should comfortably come away with two medals as well. The team will make its first appearance for the first time since the 2019 Gwangju World Championships. A lot has changed since. The Spanish have been working on two new team routines, which they are eager to showcase and get feedback on as they continue preparing for the Olympic Games Qualification Tournament.
The free team event will be particularly exciting to watch. Barring any disaster, Ukraine and Spain will be on the podium. So, who could be third? Surely, one new nation is bound to make history.
Israel has been a team on the rise ever since 2018, when it improved by 10 points in one year. Then in 2019, the nation qualified to not one, but four world championships finals for the first time. Throughout the last year, the team has continued to work with Spanish coaches Anna Tarrés and Bet Fernandez. In addition, former Ukrainian national team member Valeriia Aprielieva joined as an assistant coach.
The Israelis last competed at the 2020 French Open, where they received 84.5333 in free. Since then, two new, youinger members joined the team and will make their senior debut in Budapest. The nation has kept its technical routine, but will unveil a brand new free team routine.
So, if the nation can maintain itself in the 83-84 range in the latter, it definitely could win the bronze here. Of course, it also has to watch for Belarus. The Belarusians too are certainly in the race for the free podium. They already competed at the virtual U.S. World Series leg, but only in the technical event. Looking at numbers from 2018 and 2019, this team was capable of scoring in the 82-83 points. The roster hasn’t drastically changed either since 2019.
The last time these two faced off was at the FINA World Championships that year, where Israel finished ahead by just 0.3666 points. Belarus has not competed in the free team ever since. Keep an eye out for this likely close fight on Friday evening during finals.
Just like Russia, Switzerland will also only compete in the technical team. Without a centralized training system like many others, the Swiss faced difficulties these past seasons with pool availabilities and training schedules. It’s already great for the nation to be out there, especially after its last time at the European Championships where they had to withdraw from the competition at the last minute.
Poland will only compete in the free event. It’s great to again see this up-and-coming nation. Its 2019 season was one for the record books. After reaching the scoring limit with a 76.1000 at the Spanish Open, the Poles were able to send a team and compete in this event for the very first time at a world championships. It will be fantastic to see them again on the international stage.
Great Britain and Hungary round up the field for the team events. Hungary’s young squad competed quite recently at the Budapest World Series leg. It’s been a bit longer for Great Britain, as it last swam in free at the 2020 French Open and earned a 80.8333. Its last competitive technical routine goes even further back to almost two years ago at the 2019 Spanish Open.
The Brits will swim a free choreography to the theme of Mohammad Ali. The squad has only been training together in person for the last four weeks. Nonetheless, all the athletes are thrilled to be in Budapest after so many lockdowns and limited time in the pool.
Of course, Ukraine would be entered in every single event, like always. This European title in combo will be theirs. It unveiled a new choreography back in 2019, revolving around “Magical Castle.” Much like every Ukrainian routine, this one also featured incredible, gravity-defying and high-flying acrobatics which are truly unparalleled in height and distance in the synchro world at the moment. Now, maybe the nation has some surprises in store for us and will show something new.
Greece will compete for the first time since the 2019 World Championships. It will be absolutely thrilling to get a glimpse of this Greek team, who has be so focused on qualifying to the Tokyo Olympics.
The Greeks have been working with Anna Tarrés for over a year now, which has likely impacted their style, artistry, and way of moving. Sadly (for fans), they will not show off these potentially-Olympic routines in Budapest. But the free combination should still bring some success to the team, and will feed everyone’s curiosity as to how it looks.
In yet another veteran comeback, Maria Alziguzi has returned to the senior team. She competed at the 2012 and 2014 European Championships, as well as at the 2013 and 2015 FINA World Championships. Wanting to be a part of Greece’s Olympic quest, she doubled down on elite training and earned her spot back quickly. She was particularly stunning at Greek Nationals last fall, earning two bronze medals in solos.
Belarus and Hungary are the last two competitors in this event. Belarus last swam a combo in Gwangju, finishing ninth with a score of 82.9667. This kind of score should be good enough for bronze, if the Belarusians can repeat that performance. The home team did already compete in this event in the Budapest World Series this season, scoring a 76.5001.
The Highlight event will make its European Championships debut after being officially introduced at the 2019 Worlds. In this Olympic year with many nations focusing on the Olympic events (duet and team), we will only see three teams here.
Once again, Ukraine is here to win it all. Much like in the combo, do not miss the Ukrainians’ high-flying acrobatics, which are always impressive, risky, and sharp.
Belarus has never competed in this event before, so it will be interesting to see what the team shows off here. Finally, much like in combo, Hungary will also be there. The Hungarians haven’t shown their Highlight routine yet this season. Their last time out was at the 2019 World Championships, where they finished in a seventh place with 77.5667.
The championships schedule, and all the information to follow the competition, are available here.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Photo by FFN/P.Pongenty.
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