Jasmine Verbena and Jasmine Zonzini have already known each other for the last 15 years. They spend most of their waking hours together, finish each other’s sentences, and virtually know one another inside out.
The pair represents the small, landlocked microstate of San Marino in international artistic swimming competitions. Since their first senior appearance in 2017 — where they were also still junior athletes — their duet has continuously improved and has now become part of the conversation on the European stage.
The 2021 season was one for the record books. After winning two historical medals at the Italian National Championships, in which they participate yearly, the two qualified to the duet final at their first European Championships. There, they had one of the best swims of their careers, and could barely believe that they had finally reached the 80-point mark.
This marked an increase of five points since their last and only meet in 2020, and nearly 11 since 2017. A few weeks later, they scored 81.7332 at the joint World Series Super Final and Olympic Games Qualification Tournament in Barcelona.
Now, the two 21-year-olds and their coach Simona Chiari are hungry for more. After exceeding their own expectations and coming closer to Tokyo than anticipated, their vision and goals are set for this new Olympic cycle: they want to be in the mix for Paris, only three years away.
Inside Synchro: Let’s start from the beginning. How did you two start artistic swimming in the first place?
Jasmine Verbena: I started first. I think I was five years old. My mother took me to see a synchro training, and it was love at first sight. I was really curious about this sport so I decided to start immediately.
Jasmine Zonzini: It’s an interesting story, actually… When we were little, I found her at a summer camp. We were about six years old. When you meet a girl who has the same name as you — and it’s quite unique here — you want to become her best friend. So I followed her everywhere (laughs)! And since she was already doing synchro, I decided to do the same. Then I simply started to love what I was doing, and it helped that I was good at it. Then when we were competing, I understood that I loved the feeling of triumph and how proud I was of myself at the end of the swim, when you know that you gave everything that you could.
Jasmine Verbena: We were also in school together, and in the same class all the time. From first grade to eighth grade. So we really were always in the same place at the same time. And now, here we are!
IS: When did you start competing internationally and representing San Marino at the elite level?
JZ: Our first international competition was in 2013, the COMEN Cup in Andorra. Then we didn’t compete internationally for three years. We started again in 2016, and we never stopped. The first really big competition for us that year was the World Junior Championships in Kazan. Simona has been our coach since then too.
JV: It’s really just the two of us now. We had other teammates in San Marino until maybe 2018, but they decided to stop. There are younger athletes here, but they are very young. But at the same time, it’s good for us because we can really focus on all the details for the duet.
JZ: Yes. It’s also important because that strengthened our relationship. For a long time, we were close because we were teammates…
JV: …but now, we are like sisters. We see each other every day, six hours a day or more.
JZ: I see her more than my parents and my own sister!
IS: Do you live together as well?
JV: No we don’t but we both live near the pool, maybe five minutes away. We live in our own homes with our families here in San Marino. But we really are together all the time!
IS: You’ve swam and known each other for so long that it obviously must help in the water. What do you think your strengths are as a duet?
JZ: This is funny because we are exactly the opposite of one another. Even outside of the water. But in synchro, she’s very strong in her arms, she has a really high vertical…
JV: … but she is more flexible. She can feel the music better and “flow” better than me. We try to complement each other. If she’s better at something, she’ll help me improve on my weaknesses. We can learn from each other. It’s special for us, and not something that everyone can do.
IS: While you represent San Marino internationally, you compete nationally in Italy. You both swim in the team events with the club of Sport Village Banca Di Pesaro. Can you talk more about that, and how it all works out in your training schedule?
JZ: Yes. We are paired to a team in Italy so we can also compete with other athletes in the Italian championships. But Simona is our coach everywhere. Our weeks are super busy. We train in the morning from 9:00 a.m. to maybe 1.00 p.m. Then, we are back in the pool at 2:30 p.m. until 6:00 p.m. or 6:30 p.m.
JV: We know what time the training starts but we don’t know when it finishes (laughs)! We do at least six hours a day, six days a week. We train mostly here in San Marino and we are more focused on the duets and solos. Three times a week, we also go to Pesaro, which is 45 minutes away in Italy, and we work with the team. It allows us to think of something else and have fun with our teammates.
IS: You actually had very successful results last season at the Italian Championships, particularly in the winter ones.
JV: Yes, we got third place in the duet. If you had asked us two or three years ago whether we would be able to win a medal at the Italian Championships, we would have said, “No way!”
JZ: It was really nice to get it. It’s been getting better for us. Years before, they were very hard on us. But after we finished school in 2019, we were able to train more and to focus on just synchro. So we improved and the judges saw that.
JV: Yes. I remember the Italian Championships in February 2020, so just before Covid. It was one of our best competitions because no one expected that we could do those things. We finished sixth, just after all the duets from the national team. They are all professionals, representing the army or the police, and then there was us (laughs)! It was really nice to see that our work had started to be recognized.
JZ: Now, we both study biology in university. We can train all day long, and we study when we come home in the late afternoon or after dinner. It’s not easy, but we are trying to manage everything.
IS: 2021 was overall a great season for you two. How did you approach it, especially after only competing once in 2020?
JZ: 2020 was so strange. Luckily we could train every day here in San Marino. The pool never closed for us athletes except during the first lockdown. We also could compete at the Italian Championships, so that was good.
JV: 2021 was a big year for us in international championships! We competed first at the U.S. Open that was online. That was really strange. Everyone was in their own swimming pools, and it was very silent after the run-throughs. Then, we finally competed at the European Championships. We had said with our coach that we would go there and try to get in the final. We did it, so that was really nice. Also, the main goal for us was 80 points. Before the final, we were holding hands, looking at each other, saying that we just had to swim our best…
JZ: …and we did it! We were almost crying (laughs). At competitions, Simona always says that what is done is done, and we just have to swim freely. It’s nice competing like that, knowing we did the work and we have to trust ourselves. So we just focus on what we can do at that moment, and show the best routine.
JV: It was really good. And then, 81 points in Barcelona! When you see that the hard work is paying off, you just forget everything. You don’t really remember the pain during the training, how tired you are, or when your lungs are burning. It doesn’t matter anymore! We are really proud of what we are doing. We worked really hard to get there.
IS: Indeed, your progression has been quite impressive. At the French Open in 2020, you scored 75.9. You finished the 2021 season at over 81 points. Did you change anything drastically in your training?
JZ: Yes, we changed a lot of things. We worked very meticulously on the angles and the details. We also started to work on flexibility and mobility with a rhythmic gymnastics coach.
JV: We also did a lot of conditioning. It’s really hard and we don’t like it very much (laughs)! But we know it helps and it works. This is very good for us to do all of this.
JZ: And our country is supporting us more than in the past. Maybe because they see how we get better and better every year. Now in fact, we are working with a nutritionist, a physiotherapist, and since the last few weeks with a mental coach. They are really trying to help us in all the possible ways. They believe in us and what we can do.
IS: Last June in Barcelona, you competed at the Olympic qualifier and finished 13th. San Marino has never been represented in artistic swimming at the Olympics. Are you hoping to change that?
JZ: Yes. For Tokyo, we knew it would be difficult but of course we said we would try. Then in Barcelona, we saw it was a real possibility…
JV: …for us to qualify for Paris 2024.
JZ: There were nine places in Barcelona. In the end, our score in the free duet final was the 11th-best of everybody (editor’s note: the World Series meet was held simultaneously as the Qualification Tournament. Countries only had to swim once and their scores could count towards either or both rankings). We are getting closer and closer, and with still three years in front of us… But we have to stay focused and train hard.
IS: Can we expect new routines in 2022?
JV: The technical duet is the same as last year, but we will change the free duet. In fact, we will work with [Russian Olympic champion] Anastasia Ermakova in a few weeks, right before Christmas. We are very excited. We will also work with [Italian Olympian] Giovanna Burlando throughout the year. She will help us more with the artistic parts in the tech routine for now.
IS: What are some of your main goals for this upcoming season?
JZ: We have the World Championships, and we will have the European Championships in Italy! That’s very nice for us. It’s the most beautiful pool, and we already swam there so we know how it is.
JV: For this year, our main goal is to confirm our place in the final at the European Championships…
JZ: …and to get closer to the final at the World Championships in Japan. Maybe it’s a long way, but we want to get as close as we can. In 2019 at our first Worlds, we ranked in the 20s, but we have seen how much we have improved since. We still have a lot of work to do, but we want to keep going.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
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