This short Olympic cycle is bound to be intense, and all countries are ready to finally fire on all cylinders. As usual in a post-Olympic year, many saw huge turnover of athletes as well as a few coaching changes. Who will make a strong impression right out of the gate and strategically position itself as contenders for Paris 2024? It all starts here.
In addition to the two Olympic team events, this meet also features the free combination and the highlight. Both of these have 10 swimmers. This is the last year for free combinations in the senior category, and many changes are coming to the highlight event next year.
LAST TIME OUT
Back in 2019, Russia, China and Ukraine medaled in this exact order in the technical team, free team, and free combination. These three are also the reigning Olympic medalists in the team events, once again in this order.
The highlight event was first introduced at the World Championships in 2019, where Ukraine won its first-ever World title. Italy earned silver followed by Spain in bronze. Only eight nations took part in the event back then.
Besides Russia, entirely banned from the meet, all of the medal winners will be back in these events in Budapest.
THIS YEAR’S FIELD
Most of the Olympic teams have faced significant roster changes this season. Many of the older swimmers have retired or taken the year-off. Conversely, numerous up-and-coming athletes have moved up to the senior ranks.
China, silver medalist in Tokyo, will only compete in technical and free team here. The nation has a decent mix of veterans and rookies, although most have international experience. Olympians Feng Yu, Wang Qianyi and Xiao Yanning return to the squad, and Chang Hao was the Olympic reserve. Wang Liuyi, another veteran, last competed internationally at the 2018 Asian Games.
She has been held back by an injury in the last two years. 2019 World team members Cheng Wentao and Zhang Yayi are also back again. Li Xiuchen, Wu Qianxuan and Xiang Binxuan are newcomers to the senior team. They all last competed internationally at the 2018 World Junior Championships.
Ukraine and Japan, respectively third and fourth at the last Worlds and Olympics, will look to challenge China for gold in these two team events.
It obviously has been an incredibly rough season for the Ukrainians, who have been living and training in Italy since March. The team is led by Maryna Aleksiiva, Vladyslava Aleksiiva and Marta Fiedina, who are the three returning Olympians. Veronika Hryshko, a 2019 World champion in highlight and Olympic reserve, is also part of the squad.
They are joined by Olesia Derevianchenko, Sofiia Matsiievska, Angelina Ovchinnikova — the new team flier —, Anastasiia Shmonina and Valeriya Tyshchenko. All were part of the junior national team last year. 14-year-old Daria Moshynska will also compete in the free combination event for the nation, and already made a big impression in solo at the Italian Summer Nationals a few weeks ago.
Indeed, the entire squad recently competed there, including in free team and free combination. Despite the generational change, the Ukrainians looked absolutely ready for these World Championships. In free, they kept their “Team of Brave” Olympic choreography. The combo is the same “Enchanted Castle” that the nation has performed over the last few years.
Ukraine is expected to unveil a new technical team. The nation had originally intended to keep its Swan Lake Olympic routine. However, coach Svetlana Saidova refused to “glorify the invaders” by using a Russian piece after the country’s war on Ukraine. The squad has been working on a new routine ever since.
Japan underwent both a head coaching and slight roster changes this year. Nakajima Takako took the reins of the senior national team last fall, replacing Imura Masayo who (semi) retired after the Tokyo Olympics.
Nakajima dove right in it and created three brand new choreographies for her team. She does benefit from the return of five Olympians to her squad: Inui Yukiko, Yoshida Megumu, Yasunaga Mashiro, Kijima Moeka, and Yanagisawa Akane.
Japan will compete in the technical team, free team and free combination. The Japanese already showed these new choreographies at their nationals a few weeks ago, and received stellar scores for their first-time out. Nakajima’s own style shines through the routines, and the hybrids in the Chess-themed free routine are certainly worth the watch.
Italy will make its first appearance since the Olympic Games and compete in all four team events. The nation will unveil a new free combination to the theme of “Suleyman the Magnificent.” The choreography was created by Olympic champions Svetlana Romashina, Aleksandra Patskevich and Vlada Chigireva. It has kept both of its Olympic choreographies as well as its “Dragons” highlight routine.
The nation returns the majority of its roster from last season. Olympians Domiziana Cavanna, Linda Cerruti, Costanza Di Camillo, Costanza Ferro, Gemma Galli and Enrica Piccoli all remain, as well as reserve Federica Sala. The rest of the squad includes experienced athletes who have been part of the “B” squad for years, competing in smaller international events.
Spain’s team is probably the most stable of this field as it truly only lost Ona Carbonell to pregnancy. Every other Tokyo Olympian was originally back as well as Abril Conesa, the Olympic reserve. Sadly, Sara Saldana suffered a neck injury a few weeks ago and cannot compete in Budapest.
Based on videos from media day, it appears Cristina Arambula, a 2021 junior national team member, has replaced her in the free team routine. The nation has already unveiled that new choreography at the French Open to the theme of “The Evolution of Birds on Galapagos Island.” Spain will only compete in the free team and highlight events.
On the contrary, Canada, which finished sixth at the Tokyo Olympics, essentially has a brand new team this season. Only Rosalie Boissonneault has returned, but these will be her first World Championships. With such a young roster, the nation has opted to keep both of its Olympic choreographies, and will compete in the highlight as well.
The Greek team will look forward to a strong performance in Budapest especially after a heartbreaking Olympic experience — the athletes had to withdraw from the competition at the last minute because of a Covid-19 outbreak.
The nation underwent a coaching change, and the federation appointed Anastasia Goutseva and Barbara Lithadioti to the positions. The team features five returning Olympic team members: Maria Alzigkouzi, Eleni Fragkaki, Krystalenia Gialama, Danai Kariori and Andriana Misikevych. Three-time Olympian Evangelia Platanioti will serve as reserve to the free combination and highlight routines.
The Greeks will compete in all four team events in Budapest. They have kept both of their Olympic routines they never truly got to show on the World stage, including their spellbinding “Icarus” free choreography. At the World Series Super Final a few weeks ago, they showed their new highlight routine to the theme of “Unstoppable spirit.” The free combination is the same that earned them a silver medal at the European Championships last year.
Egypt and Australia, the last nations from the Olympic team field, will also be in Budapest. Egypt is only entered in the technical and free team events. Australia will compete in the technical team and highlight events. Georgia Courage-Gardiner, Olympic reserve, is the sole returner from last year.
The new routines from the U.S., Mexico and France are probably amongst the most anticipated of the field.
After competing extensively all season in the technical and highlight events, the Americans will finally unveil their new free routine in Budapest. Their theme is “I am Water,” with music meticulously arranged by head coach Andrea Fuentes. The choreography depicts the preciousness of water, its different states, as well as its importance to the global ecosystem and the human race.
Like many others, the U.S. faced a pretty big turnover after 2021. Anita Alvarez and Daniella Ramirez are the sole athletes who continued on the elite circuit. They are nonetheless joined by a solid group of current or former junior athletes. Their intensive participation through the World Series this season has undoubtedly helped build confidence ahead of their first World Championships.
Besides, the team benefits from the returns of experienced swimmers like Natalia Vega and Elizabeth Davidson. Vega competed in the mixed duet in 2019, and both swam in the team in 2017.
Mexico will make its highly anticipated return in Budapest. Indeed, the country has not competed as a team since the Pan American Games at the end of 2019. The pandemic threw a massive wrench in the nation’s plans, to the point of not being able to properly train for the Olympic Qualification Tournament last year. After three years of absence, the Mexicans are certainly looking to prove that they should not be counted out.
This team is tremendously experienced. Regina Alférez, Nuria Diosdado, Glenda Inzunza, Joana Jiménez, Luisa Rodríguez, Jessica Sobrino and Pamela Toscano were all already part of the national team in 2019. Additionally, Most already have multiple World Championships under their belts.
Three-time junior Pan American gold medalist Fernanda Arellano also joins the squad. She actually finished first of the most recent senior team trial. Itzamary Gonzalez, another junior talent and Arellano’s duet partner last year, also moved up to the senior ranks and is a terrific flier. Mexico is entered in the free team and highlight events, where they should truly shine as their acrobatics have always been impressive. Their new free team is set to the theme of “Butterflies.”
France has had a fairly rocky season so far. After competing in the first World Series leg in the technical event, the country then had to withdraw from the French Open (Covid-19) and the Super Final at the last minute. In Budapest, the French will swim in the technical and free events. They will unveil a new free choreography to the theme of “Art.”
The core of the French team is mostly the same since last season, and juniors Oriane Jaillardon and Romane Lunel were added to the World squad. A few key athletes are temporarily out. Olympian Laura Tremble will miss the season due to two knee surgeries, while Manon Disbeaux is recovering from her first one.
After swimming in the technical routine in the first World Series leg, both Anastasia and Daria Bayandina are missing from this World roster. On June 13, FINA updated its list of suspended athletes, revealing they had been suspended for “use of a prohibited method” for two years, with a backdated start of March 2021. The twins then posted on Instagram to explain they tested positive to furosemide in 2014 as they were competing under the Russian flag.
Back in 2019, Israel made history by qualifying to all four finals. It should do so again this season, although the country will not enter the highlight event this time.
The Israelis have certainly kept their momentum going ever since, slowly but surely increasing its scores every year. The nation returns all eight 2021 European bronze medalists, bringing experience and competitive steadiness to the table. They have kept the same routines as last year, but do have a new free combination choreography. It recently scored a massive 85.1667 at the Super Final, allowing them to inch closer to Greece.
Brazil has not competed as a team since March 2021 at the South American Championships, and is expected to enter all four events in Budapest. Like Mexico, Brazil should be exciting to watch in the highlight as the nation has always had difficult and sky-high acrobatics over the years.
In exciting news, Portugal will have a team at the World Championships for the very first time. Great Britain will be back as a team for the first time since the 2013 edition. The British will compete in the technical, free, and free combination events.
The nation set up a new High Performance Centre in Bristol last September, allowing the athletes to combine university studies with full-time training. It thus enabled Great Britain to send a full team in Budapest.
The young team from Thailand will compete in free team, free combination and highlight. Thanks to its additional participation in the solo, duet and mixed duet events, the nation will have a record number of routines in these World championships.
Hungary, Kazakhstan, Singapore, and Slovakia have all participated in the World Series as a team this season and will return in Budapest. Costa Rica, New Zealand, Switzerland and Turkey will entr the team events for the first time this year. The latter has worked with Olympic champion Anastasia Ermakova on its free team choreography set to the famous Mozart’s Turkish March.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Cover photo: Deepbluemedia
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