The first leg of the FINA Artistic Swimming World Series marked the beginning of the 2022 elite international season. 16 nations participated in the virtual event, broadcasted over two days last weekend.
Following the same format as last year, the routines were previously filmed throughout the last week of February, before being judged a few days later. Nonetheless, the current international sanctions against Russia and Belarus impacted this first elite competition.
At the time of the taping, both nations could still compete. On February 28 and following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the IOC however recommended that “International Sports Federations (IFs) and sports event organizers not invite or allow the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes and officials in international competitions.”
The vast majority of federations across numerous sports followed this recommendation, and banned Russian and Belarusian athletes until further notice. At the time of the broadcasting, FINA however still allowed them to compete under a neutral banner. Consequently, artistic swimmers from both countries at this virtual event competed under the “Independent FINA athletes” (IFA) label. As of March 23, both nations are banned from the 2022 FINA World Championships.
Relatedly, Germany had also originally recorded solo and duet routines for this competition. But last week, the president of the German Swimming Federation announced that no German athletes would take part in international events “if FINA allowed the participation of Russian and Belarusian athletes, even under a neutral flag.”
As a result, Marlene Bojer and Michelle Zimmer withdrew from the meet. It was too late to delete their routines from the broadcast, but they were ultimately removed from the final standings.
Onto the competition itself. The most noteworthy performance came from South Korea‘s duet of Hur Yoonseo and Lee Riyoung. The two have only been swimming together for a few months, but already recorded the country’s highest score since 2012. Choreographed by Ukrainian coach Oksana Pysmenna, their “Flying Birds” free duet received a 84.2000. It is already a four-point increase since last year, and only 0.7000 points behind the U.S. duet here that grabbed gold.
An up-and-coming star for the nation, Hur Yoonseo was already stellar at the 2019 Youth World Championships. She finished fifth in solo and as the first representative of the Asian continent. The 16-year-old hasn’t been able to compete much more since because of the cancellation of all non-European junior international events. She was nevertheless a member of the Korean squad that competed at the 2021 Olympic Games Qualification Tournament. In a very smart move, Hur is now paired with veteran Lee Riyoung, who already has two World Championships and an Asian Games on her resume.
The free duet event was won by the new pair of Megumi Field and Natalia Vega from the U.S. with their new choreography to electronic music. Vega competed in the mixed duet event at the 2019 FINA World Championships, while Field was a member of the U.S. squad last season.
The American squad originally intended to participate in eight events, but had to deal with last-minute “injuries and additional challenges” which limited its ability to compete. Two-time Olympian Anita Alvarez was notably missing as she recently got surgery on her foot. The nation could however field a full team for the Highlight event. Its “Cave People” routine earned gold and a score of 84.6333.
Representing IFA, Svetlana Kolesnichenko and Varvara Subbotina won the technical duet event with a 93.1321. This was the first time the two were paired together since 2018. Subbotina also earned gold in technical solo with her new Elvis Presley choreography that she had originally planned to debut at the 2021 European Championships before being forced to pull out with an ear injury.
Twins Anastasiya and Daria Bayandina made their international debut representing France and settled for silver. Their technical routine to the theme of nature received 88.3151. The two formerly competed for Russia, and became World and European champions with the team in 2017 and 2018, respectively.
France also participated in the technical team event with the same “Daft Punk medley” routine as last season. It won gold with a new team-high score of 87.7137, and moved ahead of Canada in the rankings by a significant margin. Unlike the Canadian team, there was very little turnover amongst the French this year. The nation did however lose Manon Disbeaux and 2020 Olympian Laura Tremble to knee injuries for the season.
After a hiatus last year to focus on the Olympic events, Eve Planeix finally returned to the solo event as well. She swam her new free routine choreographed with Virginie Dedieu, to the song “N’Insiste Pas” by Camille Lelouche. She earned gold and a new career-high score of 87.4667.
Besides Kolesnichenko and Subbotina, IFA impressively fielded five other different duets. Marharyta Kiryliuk and Valeryia Valasach won bronze in the free event with a score of 83.7333. Valasach swam alongside Vasilina Khandoshka during the 2019 season, but had not competed since because of a long-term injury.
IFA’s Aleksandr Maltsev, Maya Gurbanberdieva and Olesya Platonova won both mixed duet events with the same choreographies as last season. Japan‘s Sato Tomoka and Sato Yotaro earned 82.7000 for their Samurai free routine and first time out together. The two recently made the senior national team squad and are likely the nation’s newest mixed pair. Sato Yotaro, 17, was particularly outstanding in the final selection event and positioned himself as the top man by over two points.
Spain and Puerto Rico rounded out the mixed duet field, with Spain introducing a new pair of Fernando Diaz del Rio Soto and Judith Calvo.
Men solos were back on the programme for this virtual event. IFA’s Aleksandr Maltsev won the technical event with 90.4231, while Puerto Rico‘s Javier Ruisanchez grabbed gold in the free event with a 60.2000.
Denmark participated in a World Series event for the very first time thanks to the pair of Karoline Christensen and Mia Heide. A very small artistic swimming nation, it last participated in the European Championships in 1995, so it was very exciting to see it back on the international stage.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Cover photo courtesy of Korea Artistic Swimming.
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