The first of four artistic swimming World Cup events (former World Series) gets underway on Thursday, March 16 in Markham, Canada. This competition will be the first major international one under the new scoring system.
Indeed, artistic swimming is in the midst of the biggest overhaul in its rules. Say goodbye to everything we knew and hello to essentially a brand new sport. Or at least, a new way to approach it and to think about it. With the implementation of open-ended scores, all of our former reference points are out the window.
A few countries have already carried out national competitions with these changes, leading to its fair share of surprises, questions, and often long waits for scores. But obviously, everybody has been waiting to see what it will look like at the international level. The entire artistic swimming community will undoubtedly be riveted on this inaugural World Cup.
Nearly 25 nations are entered this event, ready to test their routines under this new era of the sport. Bear in mind that no official entry nor start lists have been published at the time of this writing.
Canada and the United States will get their (long) seasons underway, which will culminate in the Pan American Games in November where they, along with many other countries, will vie for Olympic spots.
Canada has kept the same roster since the 2022 World Championships in Budapest. The host nation has hinted on social media at having a new women duet this season after forgoing the event last year, so fans should look out for that. Similarly, the country returns in the mixed duet with Robert Prevost and Isabelle Blanchet-Rampling. The two are back to the competition stage for the first time since the 2017 World Championships where they had finished sixth in both events.
Since Budapest, the American squad saw some changes, with three World team members heading to college. In turn, Audrey Kwon, Calista Liu and Jacklyn Luu all joined the team. Luu is the most experienced of the three, having competed at the 2017 World Championships and 2016 World Junior Championships. She returns to the national team after a successful collegiate career at Stanford University. Kwon and Liu were both members of the junior national team last season.
In addition, the mixed duet now features Natalia Vega swimming alongside Kenny Gaudet. Vega was part of the women’s duet last year as well as the team routines, but she is no stranger to the mixed duet. In 2019, she ranked fourth in both mixed duet events at the 2019 World Championships. She replaces Claudia Coletti, who competed with Gaudet throughout the 2022 season.
Australia, Japan, Israel and Ukraine have sent full squads to Markham. The Japanese team should remain quite strong, losing three athletes since Budapest but bringing up some of its top junior and reserve senior athletes. The nation is expected to be the only one to compete across all three team events, as well as both women solos and women’s duet.
On that note, he country should unveil a new duet composed of Higa Moe and Yasunaga Mashiro. The two have already been announced by the federation as the duet that will compete at the World Championships in July. Higa is certainly one to keep an eye on after her breakthrough 2022 season. At only 14 years old she became a two-time World Junior Champion in solo, World Youth Champion in solo, and three-time World medalist in team.
After placing fourth at Worlds last year in the technical duet, she returns to the senior duet but is now paired with Yasunaga Mashiro, who replaces Yoshida Megumu — Yoshida is still part of the team routines. Yasunaga, a 2020 Olympian, has been one of the top Japanese athletes over the last few years. She actually should have been in the duet already last season, but was limited in training due to an injury. Higa and Yoshida ended up swimming together in Budapest, but it seems Yasunaga is back to full strength this year and ready to shine in the event.
Ukraine, who has been neck-and-neck with Japan over the last two Olympic cycles, returns to the World Cup circuit after missing it last season because of the war. After training in Italy for most of 2022, the Ukrainians had returned home to Kharkiv after the European Championships, but their training facility “Sports Palace Lokomotyv” was bombed in September. Since then, they have been living and training in Kyiv. Despite the bombings and power outages, the athletes have trudged on and are ready to compete in Markham.
The nation is set to compete in most of its usual events except free team. The Ukrainians are the reigning European champions across all solo, duet and team events, as well as World champions in acrobatic team (formerly highlight). This team saw no turnover since last season and should be one to watch across all events.
Returning nearly its full roster from 2022, Israel will unveil new technical and acrobatic team choreographies. The Olympic-hopeful duet of Shelly Bobritsky and Ariel Nassee will also present its new technical routine to the theme of “Gypsy.” The two are amongst the few to have already had some competition experience this season. They swam this routine at the Israeli Nationals in January and scored 231.8208.
Finally, Australia will make its competitive debut under new head coach Paula Klamburg. Klamburg took the helm of the Australian program after leading Spain’s junior team to four World titles last summer. The nation returns four Tokyo Olympian to its roster (Carolyn Buckle, Hannah Burkhill, Kiera Gazzard and Alessandra Ho) as well as its Olympic reserve Georgia Courage-Gardiner.
The mixed duet field will be highlighted by the reigning World and European champions from Italy, Giorgio Minisini and Lucrezia Ruggiero. They already competed at their national championships a few weeks ago. There, they unveiled their new “Johnny B. Goode” free duet and scored 303.3874. Minisini may also present his “Hallelujah” free solo on the international stage, which earned him 313.3917 at nationals.
The Italian federation has also summoned Linda Cerruti, Sarah Maria Rizea and Flaminia Vernice to this competition. Rizea and Vernice were silver medalists in duet at the 2022 European Youth Championships. Last season, Cerruti became the most decorated artistic swimmer in Europe after winning eight medals at the European Championships.
With her longtime partner Costanza Ferro seemingly only focusing on domestic competitions now, the state of Italy’s duet is up in the air. Will we see Cerruti paired up with somebody new here in Markham? Or will the nation bet on the next generation with Rizea and Vernice?
Spain is sending both its senior and junior mixed duets to Canada. Following the retirement of Pau Ribes, the four-time European silver medalist Emma Garcia is now paired with Fernando Diaz del Rio Soto. Diaz del Rio Soto focused on the men solo event last season, notably winning two silver medals at the European Championships.
It will also certainly be thrilling to see Dennis Gonzalez measure himself again to the senior field after his last appearance in this category at the Super Final in 2021. Last season, Gonzalez was fully focused on junior events (note: his junior career is not over yet). Always one to watch, he is currently a seven-time European Junior Champion, a three-time World Junior Champion, and a six-time World junior medalist.
The Spanish federation also called up a few more swimmers to this meet, including some of its top junior athletes like Lilou Lluis Vallette and Meritxell Ferré. They are joined by members of the senior national team training squad Mireia Hernandez and Judith Calvo. It will be interesting to see what Spain’s game plan is with its nine-athlete roster; whether it’s presenting a whole bunch of duets and solos, or if there’s also a team routine hiding underneath it all.
Belgium, China and Puerto Rico are also part of the mixed duet field. The Chinese pair will certainly be one to watch as the reigning two-time World bronze medalists. It will be the first appearance on the World circuit for Belgium’s Renaud Barral and Lisa Ingenito. The pair made its international debuts last year at the European Championships in Rome. In Markham, they will unveil two new choreographies: a technical routine in homage to René Magritte and a free routine to the theme of anime and mangas. Barral should also debut in the men technical solo.
Argentina, Aruba, Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Portugal, Singapore, South Korea and Uzbekistan will all be part of the women’s duet field. Argentina, Aruba and Hungary will be represented by new pairs making their first international appearance together.
In solo, Jennah Hafsi will represent Morocco ; a first for a country that’s never appeared on the World stage at all. For many years, Hafsi lived and trained in Florida and was part of the U.S. U-12 national team that competed at the 2018 UANA Pan American Championships. Last season, she swam for the club of Florida Elite Synchro Warriors, notably winning a bronze in technical duet at U.S. Nationals and also competing in the junior division. The 16-year-old now trains in Rabat in Morocco.
Finland‘s Pinja Kekki and Slovakia‘s Viktoria Reichova are expected to compete in solo as well. Kekki will swim a new free choreography to the theme of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Finally, athletes from Bulgaria and Kazakhstan are also set to compete in Markham, although it is unclear at this time in which events.
Find all the information you need to follow the competition along at this page; it will be updated regularly.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Cover photo: Deepbluemedia
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