01/08/2021: This article was updated after the news that Evangelia Platanioti will indeed travel to Tokyo, and that Greece has entered a duet in the competition. Later in the day, the Greek Olympic Committee stated that Platanioti would compete in the duet events.
After a long and tough quad (quint?) since Rio, the 2020 Olympic Games are finally here. The artistic swimming competition starts with the duets on August 2. It will last until August 4, when the new Olympic medalists will be determined.
This duet competition is shaping up to be extremely close and exciting. First of all, all of these pairs have not competed against each other, or at all, in the last two years. Second of all and as the European Championships demonstrated, the hierarchy is changing greatly.
The final rankings are quite unpredictable. It will be a very competitive and intense fight to make it into the top 12 for the final. As a reminder, only one medal will be awarded at the Games for duet, using the combined technical and free scores.
Let’s first take a quick look at the medal contenders. The fight for the podium will likely come down to Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), China, Ukraine and Japan.
The Russian women have won the duet events at the Games since 2000. Once again, veterans Svetlana Kolesnichenko and Svetlana Romashina are the heavy favorites to win yet again another Olympic title.
Romashina is already one of the most decorated and successful artistic swimmers. After winning two golds in Rio — she for now has five Olympic gold medals —, she took a short break to have a child. She returned to elite for the 2019 season. Her and Kolesnichenko have already spent many years on the national team together. They were first paired in the duet event in 2013, and then again since 2019 after Romashina’s comeback.
In 2021, the Russians won both European titles in the technical and free duets. They even received one 10.0 in difficulty in the latter. In Tokyo, they will keep the same choreographies that we’ve seen all year: the “Spiders” free routine (which they also competed at the 2019 World Championships), and the “Kalinka” technical programme.
“Kalinka” actually brought some trouble to the ROC, due to WADA’s ban on the Russian Federation. First of all, they had to modify their music slightly to abide by the ban requirements. Fans won’t hear the “Welcome to Russia” resonate in the Tokyo pool, or any of the lyrics including the word “Russia.”
In addition, the song’s original title is “With Russia From Love,” but it will now just be referred to as “Kalinka.” The IOC also banned them from wearing swimsuits with a bear on them, as that was too closely associated with Russia.
Huang Xuechen and Sun Wenyan, the reigning silver medalists from Rio, are back. The Chinese are also a very experienced pair, and will certainly fight for the gold. Just like Romashina, Huang took a break after Rio to have a child and has since returned. She is already considered one of China‘s most successful artistic swimmers. The 31-year-old has won five Olympic medals across three Games, and a total of seven would be historical. Sun also took a short break after 2016, but returned a bit earlier than Huang.
Unlike the Russians, the Chinese have however not competed internationally since 2019. They did swim at the national championships in the technical duet, and received 95.5822. They seem to have kept the same choreography from 2019, which earned them a silver at worlds. Huang and Sun should however unveil a new free routine in Tokyo.
At the last World Championships, the Russians had essentially a two-point lead over the Chinese. In 2021, Romashina and Kolesnichenko have increased their scores even more, reaching above 96 twice in tech and nearly 98 in free. With these numbers, it will either take a disaster from ROC to lose that gold to China, or a surprise miracle from China with its new choreography.
The fight for bronze will be an exciting one, and will likely come down to Ukraine and Japan. These two have been neck and neck since Rio. Japan had the edge after its third-place finish there, but Ukraine has been making up ground ever since.
In 2019, the incredibly talented Marta Fiedina, now 19, was put in the duet with 2016 Olympian Anastasiya Savchuk. They match beautifully in the water, and have really brought Ukraine to new heights since their first season together. At the last World Championships, they won bronze in the duet events, edging out Japan by 0.4731 in tech and 1.1000 in free.
Both countries did compete this year, albeit in different meets. Ukraine unveiled two new choreographies at the European Championships, and reached some of its highest duet scores there — 92.6862 in tech and 94.3333 in free. The Ukrainians showed precise movements, great attention to detail and impressive angles work. Their free duet also featured a lovely and quite difficult paired hybrid at the end of their second lap, so don’t miss that routine.
Inui Yukiko, a two-time Olympian, and Yoshida Megumu will of course put up a fight to overcome the Ukrainians once again. At their home Olympics, the Japanese will aim to defend the country’s bronze medal from five years ago. They swam their two Olympic routines in the World Series leg in Russia this season, earning 91.6111 in tech and 93.000 in free. The Japanese’s strengths are clearly in the technical event. So, they must hit it perfectly to have the lead over the Ukrainians if they want a shot at the medal.
These nations should make up the top four, barring any major mistakes. The rest of the rankings is up in the air. Austria‘s Anna Maria and Eirini Alexandri, who finished 12th in 2016, could very well make it into the top five. The sisters have had an outstanding 2021 season so far, winning two historical bronze medals at the European Championships and reaching new career-best scores at every turn. Last month, they also won the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Barcelona with 90.5721 in tech and 92.2332 in free.
With these, they even outscored the Canadian duet of Claudia Holzner and Jacqueline Simoneau, also competing in Barcelona. Don’t miss either pairs as they are both fantastic yet showcase completely different strengths and styles.
Of course, Italy‘s duet of Linda Cerruti and Costanza Ferro should be part of this conversation. The two finished sixth in Rio. However, it’s difficult to say much more as they have not competed in duet since 2019. Shortly before the European Championships in May, Cerruti suffered an ankle sprain that limited her training, and the Italian squad was hit with bouts of Covid-19. The team eventually successfully qualified to the Games at the qualifiers in June, with Cerruti swimming both team routines. In Tokyo, her and Ferro are expected to unveil two new choreographies.
Another question mark is Spain, which placed fifth at the last Games. While Italy’s duet has stayed the same, Spain’s has changed frequently in the last quad. For these Olympics, the country opted for a young and new pair of Iris Tio and Alisa Ozhogina.
The two have noticeable potential together, but don’t have extensive international experience yet. They did make their debut together in technical duet at the European Championships. They showed a new, baseball-themed routine and received 86.9546. However, it wasn’t enough to stay ahead of the fast-improving pairs like Austria, Belarus or the Netherlands, all of which have had the luxury of only focusing on duet this season.
With such a young duet and a team-focused training plan, it is looking increasingly likely that the Spanish may have kept the same free choreography from 2019, set to “Malaguena” by Ernesto Lecuona. It would be a smart and safe move to guarantee a spot in the final, especially after barely competing over the last two years.
So yes, watch out for Belarus, the Netherlands, and also France. These three were neck and neck at the Olympic Games Qualification Tournament last month, separated by 0.6305 in combined scores.
Belarus placed 21st in Rio, but absolutely should not worry about making the final this time around. Vasilina Khandoshka and Daria Kulagina have had a massive breakthrough season, and skyrocketed up the rankings. This was particularly highlighted by their performance at the European Championships, where they improved the country’s scores by up to seven points from 2019.
Similarly, Bregje and Noortje de Brouwer have brought the Netherlands back to the elite stage. The country hasn’t even been at the Olympics since 2008. The twins barely missed the duet finals at the 2019 worlds by a few tenths. However this time, they have made themselves quite undeniable by improving by four points in both events since.
It’s been a wild ride for Greece over the last few days. Originally, it was announced that the country would not participate in duet after veteran Evangelia Platanioti tested positive for Covid-19. Platanioti was still in Athens and did not fly to Tokyo. On August 1, the Greek Olympic Committee said she would travel to Tokyo in the end.
Additionally from the start lists, Greece will have a duet with Maria Alziguzi and Evangelia Papazoglou. The Greek Olympic Committee however stated later in the day that Platanioti was all cleared upon arrival, and would swim in the duet events as planned. The nation has not competed in the duet since 2019. It plans to keep the same two choreographies as at these World Championships, with its Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” tech, and “Sharks” free.
The duets from the U.S. and Mexico will be right in this mix as well. In Barcelona, the Americans finished 1.4203 points behind the Netherlands, while Mexico was only 0.1601 behind the U.S. Certainly, these two will aim to maintain their spot in an Olympic final and to keep some of these European nations at bay.
Overall, scores are going to be very close between all of these countries looking for a top-12 finish. The margin for error is essentially non-existent. In the end, it’s likely that qualifying to the final will require a minimum of 85-86 in tech and 86-87 in free. Back in Rio, the lowest scores to make it were 84.9268 in tech and 85.2667 in free. This just shows how much more competitive and remarkable this event has become this quad.
Of course, a lot of other duets are waiting in the wings, hoping to capitalize on any mistakes from any of the above to sneak into the final. Amongst them are Israel and Great Britain. All four swimmers are first-time Olympians, but a spot in the final is not entirely unrealistic. Both pairs have tremendously improved this season as well, increasing their scores by three and two points, respectively, since last Worlds. They are both capable of scores in the 85-86 range, and could very well upset for that coveted 12th place.
Moreover, Kazakhstan is another pair to keep in mind, but it’s also one that’s difficult to assess. Indeed, Alexandra and Yekaterina Nemich have kept a low profile since 2019. However, the two have worked with Russian Olympic champion Anastasiya Ermakova again this season, and will show two new choreographies in Tokyo. They placed 15th in Rio, and will undoubtedly aim to improve on that.
Colombia and Liechtenstein grabbed the last two tickets to Tokyo at the recent qualifiers. Don’t miss the Colombians’ free duet, where they light up the pool with their exciting, energetic salsa routine. All of this while making everybody nostalgic for those pre-Covid dance party days.
Lara Mechnig and Marluce Schierscher will make history by being Liechtenstein‘s first artistic swimmers at the Olympics. They are also two of only five athletes representing the small nation in Tokyo. No matter what, they will be remembered and talked about back home, which will undoubtedly benefit the sport in the long run.
Australia, Egypt, and South Africa all have new duets for these Olympics. None have yet swam together in a major international meet. Hanna Hiekal and Laila Mohsen for Egypt have only been together for about a year. They did already compete in two World Series this season, only in the technical duet. Don’t miss them there, as their routine sets them apart with a completely different style and pace from other tech routines.
Following the retirement of her former partner last year, Amie Thompson is now paired with Emily Rogers for Australia. Both actually are 2016 Olympians, but never swam in duet together until this year. They did take part in one of the virtual World Series this season. There, they showed their tech programme to “Paint it black” by the Rolling Stones, and their “Yoga”-themed free choreography.
Finally, Clarissa Johnston and Laura Strugnell will make their senior international debut as a duet at the Olympics, representing South Africa. Johnston came out of a six-year retirement for this opportunity after Strugnell convinced her to give it a try. The two are eager to finally show their routines to make their country proud. The last time the nation was at the Games was in 1992.
To end on a fun fact, two of triplet sisters (Austria), and three pairs of twins will swim in these events (France, Kazakhstan, the Netherlands) in Tokyo. All information to follow the meet along is available here.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Cover photo: Deepbluemedia
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