01/08/2021: This article was updated after the news that Evangelia Platanioti would travel to Tokyo.
Ever since teams were introduced in then-synchronized swimming at the 1996 Olympic Games, only eight countries could participate. At the Tokyo Olympics and for the first time ever, 10 nations will compete in the team events.
The team competition will not have any preliminary rounds. All 10 will swim in the technical event on August 6 and in the free event on August 7. The medal winners and final rankings will be determined adding both scores together.
Theoretically and looking at the most recent scores, the medal contenders are Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), China, and Ukraine. Japan is certainly on the bubble for a podium-finish, but should keep a very close eye on Italy and Spain who are coming up fast.
The fight for gold will undoubtedly come down to ROC and China.
The Russians have not lost Olympic gold since 2000. For these Games, ROC has selected one of its strongest rosters to date with six returning Olympians. This team includes five-time Olympic champion Svetlana Romashina, two-time gold medalists Aleksandra Patskevich and Alla Shishkina, and 2016 Olympic champions Vlada Chigireva, Svetlana Kolesnichenko, and Maria Shurochkina. That’s already 12 Olympic golds.
This ROC team is talented, unflappable, and extremely skilled. Having Kolesnichenko, Romashina and Patskevich back in the actual team routines — the last time they all swam those was 2016 — is also a huge boost. They bring a wealth of knowledge, experience and stability to the entire squad.
The Russian women are the 2021 European champions in technical team with a 95.6705. They will perform their “Quadrille” choreography again in Tokyo. They have swam it since the 2019 season, and is certainly a well-oiled machine by now.
Their new free routine is a giant mystery, and absolutely nothing about it has leaked. In “normal” times, the Russians usually do an exhibition show, and invite national media to see their routines before they travel to a major competition. This year, none of that happened. No matter what, we can expect ROC to unveil something creative, difficult, perfectly executed yet very fast, that will once more push the boundaries of the sport.
China, the 2016 silver medalist, will be the challenger to this ROC squad. It’s also an incredibly deep team, with five returning Olympians. Five-time Olympic medalist Huang Xuechen leads the team, and is joined by three-time silver medalist Sun Wenyan and 2016 Olympians Guo Li, Liang Xinping and Yin Chengxin.
Like in the duet, the Chinese have not competed internationally since 2019. However, they swam at the national championships where they received a gigantic 97.5899 in technical team. Yes, essentially two points higher than Russia’s last score; Sure, it’s a comparison between domestic and international scoring. But, it’s still something to keep in mind.
That technical routine was mostly new. The construction and music are different from what they showed at the 2019 FINA World Championships, but some of the hybrids and other parts of the choreography are still in there. Overall, the Chine squad looked strong with excellent elements.
The broadcast purposefully did not show the free routine during the competition itself, but displayed the final rankings with combined scores. There, the Chinese team had a total of 195.4899. This meant that the free routine scored 97.9000, which is absolutely in Russia’s usual range.
In further sleuthing of the broadcast, the Chinese athletes stood on the sidelines and seemed to be wearing the same suits than in the 2019 Worlds. Did they keep their “Ode to the Heroine” free choreography from these Worlds to focus on consistency and execution rather than risk something new? Or are they just not revealing anything, routine nor suit?
While the fight for gold will be exciting, it won’t be any less thrilling for the bronze. With its performances at the European Championships in Budapest, Ukraine seems to be on its way to a first Olympic team medal. This is only the second-time the country has qualified a team to the Olympics.
Similarly to the duets, it has been a tight battle with Japan ever since Rio, where Ukraine missed the bronze by 0.5986. At the last World Championships in 2019, that order had changed as Ukraine edged out Japan by 0.7307 in tech and one point in free.
Both countries competed internationally this year, although in different meets. In Budapest, the Ukrainians unveiled their two new Olympic routines. Their “Swan Lake” tech programme received 92.3920, while the “Team of Braves” free routine scored 95.0667 in free. This team is young, but does feature two returning Olympians: Anastasiya Savchuk and Kseniya Sydorenko. Both were in Rio with the team, but Sydorenko also competed in 2008 and 2012 in duet.
Inui Yukiko is the sole returning Olympian for Japan. The nation swam in the World Series leg in Kazan in April, and scored 91.4460 in tech and 93.1667 in free. Both of their routines are quite centered around their own culture, so it’s truly such a shame they don’t get to perform them in front of their home crowd. The technical routine is all about karate, while the free depicts a Japanese festival and its surrounding celebrations. That routine is the same as at the 2019 World Championships.
Ultimately from the few scores of the season, it seems Ukraine has widened the gap with Japan even more while making itself undeniable for an Olympic medal. Like for the duets, Japan’s strengths are in the technical event. To stay in that race, it will need to finish ahead there to enter the free team final serenely.
However, Italy and Spain are two nations to watch closely. The Italians only competed once this year at the Qualification Tournament in early June. They did win that meet while showcasing two new routines. Their “Superheroes” tech received 90.7917 and their “Women Warriors” free earned 93.2332. That is 0.0665 points higher than Japan’s free score this year.
This Italian team is also quite deep and experienced, with four returning 2016 Olympians: Beatrice Callegari, Linda Cerruti, Francesca Deidda, and Costanza Ferro. The Italians apparently have some surprises in store in Tokyo, as they have entirely reworked their technical program since the qualifiers. They kept the theme but have done some major changes to the music and the routine construction since.
Spain will return as a full team to the Olympic Games after missing out in 2016. This young squad is also right on Italy’s heels. At the Qualification Tournament, it finished only 0.2411 points behind in tech and 0.9332 in free. The Spanish are led by two-time Olympic medalist Ona Carbonell, who returned to elite after having her son. Tokyo wasn’t originally on her mind, but the postponement of the Games gave her one extra year to comeback.
Spain’s routines are quite creative, and have been tried and tested in front of judges already twice this season. Its technical choreography incorporates both Spanish and Japanese cultures while keeping inclusivity in mind. Throughout the routine, the athletes use Japanese sign language to communicate and say, for example, “We all are overcoming difficult times, and arrived at the Tokyo Olympics.” Again, this would have been such a crowd-pleaser…
The free team follows Darwin’s Theory of Evolution. Don’t blink during the walk-in and deckwork as they take a few seconds to recreate one of the most famous sketches associated with this research.
Canada is also back to the Olympic Games as a team after not qualifying to Rio. The team is led by Jacqueline Simoneau, who participated in the duet events in 2016. The Canadians qualified to the Games back at the 2019 Pan American Games and had not competed until a month and a half ago at the World Series Super Final in Barcelona.
There, they unveiled both of their Olympic routines, choreographed by Russian Olympic champion Anastasia Ermakova. Their energetic technical routine uses a mix of hip-hop and rap music, and the free team tackles the theme of “Triumph,” using music from Two Steps from Hell. They scored 88.9380 and 90.4668, respectively.
Another team making a comeback to the Games is Greece. It’s been a bit longer, as the Mediterranean nation hadn’t been at the Olympics in team since 2004. For the Greeks to simply be there is already a victory in itself. After a long and grueling season, they clinched the final ticket to Tokyo in June at the Qualification Tournament by only 0.2108 points.
It likely was smooth sailing after that, focusing on improving technique or the execution of the routines. However, these last few days have been utterly ghastly for this young squad. The day before flying to Tokyo, veteran and two-time Olympian Evangelia Platanioti tested positive for Covid-19. She did not travel to Tokyo at first. Then on arrival in Tokyo, one staff member traveling with the team also tested positive. All athletes were negative, but monitored in isolation in a hotel for a few days. After repeatedly testing negative, the swimmers have now moved in the Olympic Village, and have hopefully started training.
Then on August 1, the Greek Olympic Committee announced that Platanioti had repeatedly tested negative since, and would travel to Tokyo. She will miss the duet events, but hopes to be allowed in the team routines in the end. It is not confirmed yet whether she will be given the green flag to compete from the organizers. Whatever happens, reserve Danai Kariori is on site and ready to step in.
Make sure to watch Greece’s free routine, which retells the Greek myth of Icarus. The federation published a storyboard of the whole routine, which will also allow viewers to follow along.
Egypt and Australia complete this expanded team field. Neither country has competed since the 2019 World Championships.
Egypt should unveil a new technical team program. Head coach Anastasiya Chepak said that she aimed to surprise and to create something different than what technical routines look like nowadays. The Egyptians will swim the same free choreography as in 2019. Nihal Saafan is the team captain for Egypt, and the sole Olympian from 2016.
Since 2019, the Australian squad has significantly transformed. First, Lolli Montico took over as head coach in December 2020. Montico served as the U.S. head coach from 2015-2018. She had previously working with the Italian and Great Britain national teams.
Moreover, the team itself has seen the most changes of all nations here, particularly since being first named before the start of the pandemic in February 2020. Last September, Hannah Burkhill was selected to the team after the retirement of Amber-Rose Stackpole. In similar fashion in December, former reserve Alessandra Ho joined the team after the departure of Jane Fruzynski. Finally only a few weeks ago, Carolyn Rayna Buckle was named to the Tokyo squad after Hannah Cross withdrew with an injury. Ultimately, Amie Thompson and Emily Rogers are now the only two returning Olympians for this Australian team.
In conclusion, this team competition should be just as exciting as the duet events. Most of these nations have not faced each other since 2019, and many are ready to show off their new routines. All information to follow the competition along is available here.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Cover photo: Deepbluemedia
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