A staple on the FINA Artistic Swimming World Series circuit since the beginning, the French Open finally returned after two years. A crowd was also finally back in an international artistic swimming event for the first time since the pandemic started. It was thrilling to hear the roars and cheers of the spectators once more.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 still very much impacted the field of competitors. The entire French senior team should have competed in free solo, technical duet, and technical team. Sadly, it was forced to withdraw from the entire competition after multiple athletes tested positive. Similarly, Thailand also could not compete as a team after multiple positives before heading to Paris.
It was still an exciting showing for the crowd, as it was the first in-person competition of the year. Countries are gearing up for a busy season, with the FINA World Championships and the European Championships coming up in the next few months.
Despite facing a significant turnover of athletes and an injury to its two-time Olympian and veteran Anita Alvarez, the U.S. had a very successful outing in Paris. The nation started the season right where it left off last year in terms of scores. Here, it showcased its new technical team routine set to Michael Jackson and received 86.0680, a few tenths off its last score at the Olympic Games Qualification Tournament. With improved elements and a well-executed routine, the Americans most notably moved ahead of Canada in the rankings for the first time in 15 years.
They also swam their Highlight routine to the theme of “Cave People” and won gold with 87.8333. The idea for the choreography came to assistant coach Anna Voloshyna in a dream. The entire team subsequently wrote the routine in less than a week.
Canada also faced a high turnover after its sixth-place finish at the Games. The young team performed both Olympic routines in Paris, including a technical team swim that was much improved from its first outing at the virtual World Series. Nonetheless, the squad couldn’t quite replicate the scores from last year, and had to settle for two silver medals with scores of 84.7341 in tech and 85.7667 in free.
Spain comfortably won the free team event. The nation returned all its Tokyo Olympians apart from Ona Carbonell, currently pregnant with her second child. The team unveiled a new-ish free team choreography to the theme of “Evolution of Birds on Galapagos Island.” This comes after “Discovery of an Island” in 2019 and “Darwin’s Evolution Theory” in 2021. The team had an impeccable and well-executed swim for a score of 90.7000 and gold. Spain also moved ahead of Canada in the rankings, thus reversing the Olympic order from last summer.
Israel continued to cement its place in the European and World conversations. Still working with choreographer Anna Tarres, the athletes presented new technical team and free combination routines. They received scores of 82.5568 and 84.0667, respectively. In free team, they kept their European bronze medal-winning choreography and earned 84.4667.
Chile had outstanding results in Paris. Coached by Marcia Leite and Spanish Olympic silver medalist Irina Rodriguez, the nation has tremendously improved over the last few years. With most still junior-eligible, the swimmers displayed incredible acrobatics and fast-paced routine. They reached a massive and historical score of 81.4333 in Highlight, and also passed the 80-point mark for their Hip Hop/Classical mix free routine (80.5333).
Understandably ecstatic, the team has its sights on the the 2023 Pan American Games at home. Furthermore, they are again positioning themselves as strong contenders for the podium at the upcoming South American Games in October, and why not, a gold medal.
The duet events were particularly intense for Switzerland, in the midst of its duet selection to prepare for the Paris Olympics. All three pairs were neck and neck, only separated by 0.9594 points in the technical event and 0.6000 in free. The final step of the selection will be at the upcoming virtual World Series hosted by Australia in May.
Portugal‘s duet of Maria Goncalves and Cheila Vieira revealed a brand new choreography by Olga Pylypchuk to the theme of “Flame Fire Ritual.” Although the score didn’t necessarily reflect it (yet), the pair has tremendously improved and should be one to watch this season.
Counting the clubs, eight (!) countries appeared in the mixed duet events: Belgium, Colombia, France, Italy, Puerto Rico, Spain, Thailand, and the USA. Considering 11 pairs took part in the last World Championships in 2019, seeing such an increase at “only” a World Series event is extremely encouraging for the future.
It was the first appearance on the international stage for Thailand‘s pair of Kantinan Adisaisiributr and Voranan Toomchay. Abisaisiributr is only 15 and started artistic swimming two years ago, but he already showed great potential. Although competing in the club category, Belgium‘s pair of Renaud Barral and Lisa Ingenito also made their debut on the senior stage together.
In women’s solo, Spain’s Iris Tio competed in solo for the first time since the 2019 World Series Super Final. She swam to “You’ve Got the Love” from Florence + The Machine and received 86.7333.
The French junior athletes shone in every category they were entered in. Oriane Jaillardon won the technical solo with a 83.5476. 15-year-old and 2021 European Youth silver medalist Laelys Alavez grabbed the bronze in free behind Tio and Italy‘s Federica Sala with a gigantic 83.9000. Alavez will certainly be one to keep an eye on at the Youth World Championships, as her incredible technical skills can propel her to the podium. Sala, a 2020 Olympic team reserve, was particularly emotional after her swim, which she dedicated to her grandmother.
Another young talent that just keeps on improving is Maria Alavidze from Georgia. The 15-year-old kept the same routine as last season, swimming to Lorde’s “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.” For her senior debuts, she earned a massive 79.9667. This marked an increase of four points from her scores in the youth and junior categories last season. Back then, she had already improved by over 8.5 points since her last outing back then. She will be one to watch this season as she is on her way to making history for Georgian artistic swimming.
Soloist Polina Prikazchikova from Israel was particularly improved as well, with sharp and intentional movements throughout each of her polished choreographies. She even earned a career-high score of 83.3333 in the free event, and nearly topped it in the technical event.
Men solos are officially part of the World Series this year. Four men took up the opportunity to shine in Paris. Colombia‘s Gustavo Sanchez was particularly captivating in the free event, which he won with a 80.8667. Spain‘s Fernando Diaz del Rio and Puerto Rico‘s Javier Ruisanchez were the only two brave enough (for now) to tackle the difficult technical solos this time around. The Spaniard won with a score of 76.2795. Of note, men solos will be on the European Championships programme this year.
Finally, Denmark also made history by sending a full team to Paris, and competing as a team in a FINA event for the first time since 1973! It was overall quite nice to see so many Northern European nations battling it out in Paris.
Similarly, this was the first time Malta and Slovenia sent a duet to a World Series competition.
Article by Christina Marmet
Cover photo: Philippe Pongenty
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