11 more duets qualified to the 2020 Olympic Games through the Qualification Tournament in Barcelona: Austria, Belarus, Colombia, France, Great Britain, Greece, Israel, Italy, Liechtenstein, the Netherlands and the U.S.
Once the final three teams qualified to the Tokyo Games, the landscape of the duet events was a bit clearer. Through their team quotas, the pairs from Italy and Greece automatically qualified and would not have to compete at all in in these events. Unfortunately, it also meant the ones from France and the U.S. would have to quickly bounce back from their disappointment to try to qualify to Tokyo in duet.
In the end, nine spots were still up for grabs. Ultimately, it seems the European Continental quota in the duet event was not awarded to anybody. It was simply added to the total number of available slots in Barcelona.
The European Championships in Budapest a month ago had already given a great preview of how tight and high-level this duet qualification would be. But, how would France position itself after a year of no competition? How would non-European duets fare in such a deep field?
The first day of competition in Barcelona absolutely delivered, with the free duet preliminary and technical duet events within a few hours of each other. From there, only the top 12 pairs would move on to the free duet final to fight for their Olympic dreams.
After the preliminaries and looking at combined scores, it appeared the first eight countries would comfortably advance to Tokyo, barring a disaster. Austria was comfortably in the lead by over six points. The fight for silver and bronze also seemed promising and exciting, with only 0.1027 between the Netherlands, France and Belarus.
However, the final spot to Tokyo was still very much up in the air between Germany and Colombia, separated by only 0.1802 points.
On the final day, Anna Maria and Eirini Alexandri from Austria truly could not be beaten. They finished the meet with two new personal-best scores of 90.5721 in tech and 92.2332 in free, and a combined score of 182.8053. They are now heading to the second Olympic Games.
“We are very happy,” Eirini Alexandri said. “The first time we were at the Olympics, we were much younger. Now, we realize more what we just did, what it will be, and the dream… We are also happy that we see this score because it’s been work for many years, not just this year. Since 2018 really, we have been looking for the 90s and more. We wanted to find what we had to do to get there. It’s really a dream come true.”
The rest of the top four completely changed from preliminaries. Belarus‘ Vasilina Khandoshka and Daria Kulagina had dropped to fourth back then, and stood 0.2000 points behind the Netherlands, a change from the European Championships rankings.
With one of their strongest swims to date, the Belarusians clinched the silver medal and a ticket to Tokyo, while also reaching a new career-best score of 89.0000.
Charlotte and Laura Tremble from France also delivered one of their best free swims to date, and reached a new career-best of 89.2668. The twins had not competed since the 2020 French Open, and had barely trained the duet in the lead-up to this competition.
They showed a new technical routine, using Nneka’s “Heartbeat” song and received 87.1933, their best score there. While that only placed them in fifth after that event, their strong “Amazons” free swim in finals propelled them to the bronze medal position. They also finished only 0.1992 points behind the Belarusians.
“We feel very happy and proud,” they said. “Of course, the disappointment from the team events is still there. Our heart is a bit split in half. On one hand, we are so happy because we are officially qualified to the Olympics. But on the other hand, it’s only going to be the two of us. We will need some more time to fully process everything that happened here. It was a lot of emotions…”
Indeed, the Tremble sisters had to rapidly move past the heartbreak of Friday night. Restricted by the Covid-19 sporting bubble, they could not even seek comfort in their parents’ and brother’s arms, who were posted up with other families in front of the pool every time the athletes got out of the bus.
With only about 15 hours to re-focus on the task still at hand, they intensely relied on the immense support of their team, coaches, and the rest of the French national team staff.
“We were really supported by our teammates,” they said. “They were simply incredible. Really, the entire staff also just lifted us up and encouraged us. We cried a lot, we talked a lot. We also told ourselves that on Friday night, we could be sad. But starting on Saturday, we had to be fully focused on the duet. We felt the team also protected us from everything that was going around us… Probably from their own disappointment too. They helped us so much. We really believe this why we were able to perform so well here.”
Bregje and Noortje de Brouwer finished in fourth place, and only 0.4313 points behind the French. Just like them, the Dutch twins also reached new personal-best scores of 87.5620 in tech and 88.4668 in free.
With this, they are bringing back the Netherlands to the Olympic artistic swimming competition for the first time since 2008. The de Brouwer’s improvements over the last three years have been undeniable, and this 2021 season has so far been quite the breakthrough year.
“We can’t believe it,” they said, laughing. “It’s just… Wow! The whole competition was such a nice one, and we really felt that we improved from Budapest. We are really in a good shape. We worked a lot on our legs and on our artistic impression for the last three weeks. Now we think that it has paid off.”
It was quite an intense and emotional ride for the U.S. duet of Anita Alvarez, Lindi Schroeder and Ruby Remati. Just like the French, they too have had to regroup fast from the team events, both physically and emotionally.
During the free duet preliminary, Alvarez found herself unwell. She was noticeably lower than Schroeder on the final hybrid, and could barely lift her arm up for the ending pose. She still somehow made it to the end, but nearly fainted in the water. Head coach Andrea Fuentes quickly dove in to help get her out and to bring her to the medical staff on deck.
The competition was paused for a few minutes. Everybody waited in a tense silence. The doctors eventually sat Alvarez down on a wheelchair. The entire pool clapped and cheered as she was being taken to the back for further examination.
She returned in the afternoon to swim in the technical duet event. The Americans reached a new high-score of 87.2417, nearly three points higher than their previous best. However, Alvarez still looked a bit shaky. The U.S. ultimately and wisely decided to let Remati, the reserve athlete, swim in the free duet final the next day.
While she had never competed with Schroeder before, Remati had extensive experience swimming in the duet during the 2018 and 2019 seasons. In the end, she handled the pressure beautifully, and helped the Americans both to qualify to Tokyo and to reach a new high of 87.3668 in free duet.
As seen in Budapest, there is now a new European rivalry between Israel and Great Britain. Both of these pairs were neck and neck then, and delivered two more thrilling performances for a close finish in Barcelona.
Great Britain’s Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe had a slight edge in tech by 0.1272 after reaching a new personal-best of 85.2230. However, Israel’s Eden Blecher and Shelly Bobritsky ultimately finished ahead in the combined rankings.
With their “A New World” free routine, the Israelis were stunned to reach a new high of 86.1332. The nation has been working with Anna Tarrés and Bet Fernandez for the last four years, and have continued to rise up through the rankings season after season.
“My brain still has not realized it,” Shelly Bobritsky said. “And that we even competed in this level, and to fight for the Olympics. Now, we are in the Olympics! I have butterflies (laughs). We are so happy that we got this score. We wanted this so badly. This is all just a lesson that we learned from Anna this year… That everything really is possible.”
Israel will be at the Olympic Games for the fifth time in a row, while it will be the fourth for Great Britain.
On the other hand, Liechtenstein will appear at the Games in artistic swimming for the very first time. The technical event quickly allowed for Lara Mechnig and Marluce Schierscher to pull ahead of their direct opponents.
They reached a new career-high of 83.1689 there, and coach Francesca Zampieri could not help but cry as they were on the verge of history. With a combined score of 167.6689 in finals, they comfortably locked themselves into the eighth spot and into a spot to the Olympics.
“It’s incredible,” Lara Mechnig said. “For Liechtenstein, it’s historic, and to be a part of that is just unbelievable. We actually had quite difficult training conditions, because we were moving back and forth from different pools between Switzerland and Liechtenstein. It’s been hard, but it paid off.”
The final Olympic quota came down to Germany and Colombia. Marlene Bojer and Michelle Zimmer were only ahead by 0.1802 in combined scores in the preliminary. However, Estefania Alvarez and Monica Arango had a tiny lead of 0.0530 with their technical score. Truly anything was possible during the free duet final.
The Germans were first up, but unfortunately had a pretty significant synchronization mistake in their last lap. They still reached a new career-high of 83.0332, but they now had to wait.
Swimming in the third spot, the Colombians had one of their best free swims as they reached a new career-high of 83.1668. In the end, Colombia finished ahead with a margin of 0.1866 points. Alvarez and Arango, both 2016 Olympians, will represent their country at the Games for the second time.
While it wasn’t the outcome they had hoped for, Bojer and Zimmer should be proud of their accomplishments. And, all while training together for less than a year. In one season, their scores rose by four points in both tech and free duet. They have really elevated the level of the duet, and undoubtedly have a big potential for growth for the next quad, and given even more time.
Switzerland and Brazil rounded out the duet final. Both certainly had hoped for better results as well. It was easy to read the disappointment on Vivienne Koch and Joelle Peschl‘s face upon hearing their score in the technical event. They were a bit fragile on some elements, and likely didn’t put out the solid swim they needed to stay in the hunt in the free duet final. Ultimately, their score of 81.4193 placed them in 11th place after this event. In the end, they finished the competition in 11th place overall with a combined score of 162.8525.
The Brazilians Luisa Borges and Laura Miccuci also faced an uphill battle after the technical duet, trailing the Colombians by one and a half point. In the end, they finished 12th with a combined score of 162.3767. This is the first time either nations will not have a duet at the Olympic Games.
Most of the duets that did not qualify for the final of the Qualification Tournament got to swim one last time in the World Series Super Final free duet final. While these will get discussed more in depth separately, there were a few noteworthy ranking movements through these qualifiers.
San Marino‘s Jasmine Verbena and Jasmine Zonzini continued their slow but steady rise by finishing in 13th place with a combined score of 160.2233. Singapore‘s Debbie Soh and Miya Yong placed 14th, and reached new personal-best scores in both events. They eventually reached another career-high score during Sunday’s final. Finally, Maria Goncalves and Cheila Vieira from Portugal climbed up to the 15th place, and even moved ahead of Slovakia in the combined rankings by 0.1840 points.
The 22 duets headed to Tokyo are: Australia, Austria, Belarus, Canada, China, Columbia, Egypt, France, Great Britain, Greece, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, Netherlands, Russian Olympic Committee, South Africa, Spain, Ukraine, and the United States of America.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
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Cover photo by Jordi Lopez