The 2020 Olympic Games have been over for a few weeks already. The Russian artistic swimming athletes are fresh off winning two more gold medals in duet and team, albeit under “Russian Olympic Committee.”
The next Summer Olympics are only three years away, and the 2022 World Championships are already in nine months. Since the end of the Tokyo Games, Russian athletes and coaches have spoken to the press to discuss some of the upcoming changes, retirements, and additions to the team for this next Olympic cycle.
First of all and as soon as the team events were over, head coach Tatiana Nikolaevna Pokrovskaya made a bold statement. She told the press that “everyone will finish [their careers] now, I suppose.” She added that many of the younger athletes were antsy and ready to move up to the squad, especially as they already had to wait one extra year.
This declaration did make some sense. A significant turnover should be expected. The ROC team was the most experienced of the field in Tokyo, and also the oldest. The average age of the squad was 27.3 years. They were even criticized in Russia for being too old, according to three-time Olympic champion Alla Shishkina. The team also featured six returning Olympians, including three athletes competing in at least their third Games.
However, it is inconceivable to picture a Russian team in Paris with no returning Olympian. It has never happened before, and Pokrovskaya loves to favor experienced veterans when it comes to that team selection.
Thankfully, it appears she may have gotten slightly ahead of herself. Fans should rejoice and expect to see some familiar faces again in three years.
That said, let’s first start with the highly-likely or confirmed departures. Seven-time Olympic champion Svetlana Romashina is ready to move on. The 31-year-old, now most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history, wants to focus on her family and the next chapter of her life.
“It will be my last Olympic Games as an athlete,” she told the Associated Press. “Maybe (in the future) you will see me (as) a coach. I just want to be with my family now. I want to have my second baby.”
Romashina’s outstanding career spanned over four Olympic cycles, and is filled with gold medals and accolades. She won three Olympic titles in the duet event in 2012, 2016 and 2020. With the team, she earned four gold medals in 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020. She is the most titled Russian athlete, and the only female athlete to have won at least seven Olympic golds without ever claiming silver or bronze.
Romashina was only 15 when she made her debut on the senior national team at the 2005 FINA World Championships. Since then, she has become a 21-time World champion and competed in seven World Championships. She is also a 13-time European champion.
After the Rio Games in 2016, she had taken a short break and gave birth to her daughter. She eventually successfully returned to elite in the 2019 season.
While she stated Tokyo would be her final Olympics, she did specify in a recent interview with VM.ru that she had not officially decided anything yet.
“I did not officially announce that I had finished my sports career,” she said. “Yes, the Olympic Games in Tokyo were final for me, but I will announce my sports plans for next year a little later. In a couple of months, I will probably make a decision. For now, I just want to put everything in its place, unwind both physically and emotionally, and understand where and how to move on.”
Besides having a second child, she also hinted at taking in-depth English courses and exploring potential contributions to the International Swimming Federation (FINA) or the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Furthermore, three-time Olympic champion Alla Shishkina is retiring. The 32-year-old competed in the last three Games, and is also a 14-time World Champion. Like Romashina, she took a two-year break after Rio and had returned to the senior national team in 2019.
“I’m leaving,” she wrote on Instagram. “[…] Three Olympic gold medals, 14 world championship gold medals and six European championship golds. A girl with imperfect form, but with incredible perseverance, hard work and faith in her dream. Nothing is impossible, and I have proven it. Life goes on.”
The 2020 Olympics were likely Aleksandra Patskevich‘s final Games as well. Patskevich, who will be 33 in November, had a similar path to Shishkina’s. She was part of the gold-winning team at the last three Olympics, and has won 13 World titles. However, she did continue swimming after Rio, and competed in duet at the 2017 FINA World Championships. Afterwards, she put her career on hold for two years and gave birth to her son. With Tokyo in sight, she returned to elite ahead of the 2020 season.
“I think this is my final Olympics,” she told reporters in the mixed zone in Tokyo. “I don’t even want to think or say anything more. I’m definitely going to rest… I don’t know how for how many years! Actually, I had returned just for one year, but the world decided that I needed to swim two more…”
Maria Shurochkina, also a 2016 Olympic champion, stated she needed to take many months off before deciding anything: “Tatiana Nikolaevna allows you to rest for up to six months, if you really ask. I would like to rest longer. This year, even these five years, took a lot of strength and nerves. Much more than preparation than for the last Olympics.”
Vlada Chigireva and Polina Komar have also hinted about needing a rest after these last few years before figuring out the next step. Tokyo were Chigireva’s second Olympics, and Komar’s first. Veronika Kalinina, who was the team’s reserve at the Olympics, expressed doubts over the continuation of her career for the next cycle.
“What will be next? I don’t know…” she wrote on Instagram. “I don’t know if I will be able to continue down this path. I will not make plans and promise anything. Of course, I really want to [become an Olympic champion]. I want to put a fat, happy exclamation mark in my sports career, but… There are many reasons that I won’t tell you.”
Obviously, there is still a lot up in the air for these athletes. Only time will tell if they will appear again on the international stage.
On the other hand, Svetlana Kolesnichenko was very clear: she wants to compete at the 2024 Olympic Games.
“I made a decision that I will continue my career and to train,” she said during the TASS press conference. “I feel strong and ready to work further. The Paris 2024 account recently followed me [on social media]. I thought it was a sign.”
Additionally, the three-time Olympic champion will not skip a beat. Duet coach Tatiana Danchenko already announced that Kolesnichenko would swim in the duet with Varvara Subbotina at the 2022 FINA World Championships in Japan in May.
Kolenischenko and Subbotina already swam together during the 2018 season, and showed great promise as a pair. They won the technical and free duet events at the European Championships in Glasgow. Once Romashina returned, Subbotina was moved to the reserve position and continued training alongside the duet.
Additionally, Danchenko specified that Subbotina would swim both solos at these next Worlds. The 20-year-old is undoubtedly poised to be the next face of Russian artistic swimming internationally. She was not selected for Tokyo after suffering an injury shortly before the 2021 European Championships. There, she still won her third European title, and first in solo, before undergoing surgery that required many weeks out of the water.
From the Tokyo squad, Marina Golyadkina has also expressed her intentions of continuing until the Paris Olympics. The former Ukrainian national team member has been a crucial part of the Russian squad throughout this last quad, and can provide valuable experience to a brand new team.
Ultimately and with so many question marks amongst the veterans, the 2022 season will be one of rebuilding for the Russian national team.
Mayya Doroshko and Tatiana Gayday are strong candidates to swim in the team next season. They were actually training alongside the Olympic squad at Lake Krugloye up until the squad’s departure to Tokyo.
In addition, Doroshko already is a two-time World champion in 2019 in the technical team and free combination. She was also the reserve of the technical team at the 2021 European Championships.
Gayday is a few years younger, but has had a stellar career in the youth and junior categories. She competed at every European Junior Championships between 2017 and 2019, and was Russia’s soloist at the 2017 and 2019 editions. At the 2018 World Junior Championships, she also was part of the winning team and free combination routines. She and Subbotina have been teammates for years, and even swam in duet together back at the 2015 COMEN Cup.
Besides, there is also a trove of younger athletes waiting in the wings. The trials for the senior national team will be held on October 1, according to Olga Pavlova, vice-president of the federation.
Elizaveta Minaeva is one of the strongest newcomers. The 2002-born enjoyed one extra year in the junior category, and now has impeccable timing to join the senior team. Minaeva is a four-time Junior World Champion, and boasts over 10 Junior European titles. She was also part of the junior duet from 2018-2021.
Moreover with Shurochkina’s long break and Patksevich’s departure, there will be a major void to fill quickly for the acrobatics. Ekaterina Kossova, one of the most consistent and talented junior athlete besides Minaeva, has been on most of the acros on the youth and junior national teams in the last few years. Born in 2004, she does however have one more year of eligibility in junior. Even though it is rare to see junior athletes move up early to the senior squad, it has happened in the past (see Romashina or Subbotina) and could happen here.
Some of the newly eligible senior athletes (2002 or 2003-born) who just competed at the 2021 European Junior Championships include Kristina Averina, Anastasiya Bakhtyreva, Nadezhda Demidova, and Daria Dzidziguri.
Another candidate to the senior squad could be Agnia Tulupova, who was the talk of Russian nationals at the beginning of the season. The 16 year old trains at the Tatiana Pokrovskaya Olympic Reserve School in Kazan, and is reportedly preparing for these trials.
Nevertheless, that transition between age groups is always unpredictable in Russia. As we’ve seen in the past, being a highly successful junior athlete is not a prerequisite nor an indicator for success once as a senior or vice versa. Surely, there will be surprises in the upcoming seasons.
Once again, this Olympic cycle is a lot shorter, and the next major competition is less than a year away. Clearly, the veterans can and should take their time to think about their next step. But either way, the nation needs to have a strong, gold-medal team ready in nine months. Using and experimenting with its depth and youth will be key.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Cover photo: Giorgio Scala / Deepbluemedia
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