Olympic, World and European medalists are set to compete in the second artistic swimming World Cup of the season in Montpellier, France. China, Japan and Ukraine, reigning World champions across all events but mixed duets, will highlight a stacked field of 33 nations.
The competition also includes full-strength squads from World and European medalists Spain and France, as well as World finalists Canada, Israel, Kazakhstan and the U.S. The line-up is just as stellar in the duet events, with Olympic pairs from Austria, China, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Spain making their season debuts, amongst others. Of course, fellow Olympic-caliber duets from Israel, Japan and Ukraine are also expected to compete.
Finally, Montpellier will witness a record male participation, with 16 mixed duets in total, including World medalists from Japan and China, and 13 men soloists.
A few weeks ago, the World Cup in Markham served as the first official major event under the new rules and scoring system. In turn, the competition delivered astonishing and exciting rankings. Israel’s technical duet finished ahead of Ukraine and Japan. The U.S. technical team nearly moved ahead of Japan. Marta Fiedina passed reigning World champion Inui Yukiko in technical solo.
On the other hand, that meet also highlighted a significant trend towards high difficulty in the routines, often to the expense of artistry. Will we see more jaw-dropping rankings in Montpellier? A continued race to the highest Degree of Difficulty (DD)? Endless twirls at an angle? Routines looking more and more similar to one another to get the best out of the Difficulty table? Probably all of the above. Either way, the competition is certainly shaping up to be an unforgettable one.
China returns to the World Cup (formerly World Series) circuit for the first time since 2019 in the technical and acrobatic team. Reigning world champions in technical team and free team, the nation saw no changes to its roster since 2022. On paper, it certainly should be one of the strongest squads of this competition.
Fresh from a first victory at the first World Cup leg, the mixed duet of Shi Haoyu and Zhang Yiyao returns and finally gets the opportunity to measure itself against Japan, one of its most direct competitors. Shi is also slated to compete in the acrobatic team. The twins Wang Liuyi and Wang Qianyi, reigning World champions in duet, are also entered in the technical duet event and should hopefully unveil a new choreography.
Japan is overall entered in the same events as in Markham except for the acrobatic team. Additionally, the two-time World silver medalists Sato Yotaro and Sato Tomoka will make their season debuts in the mixed duet. The siblings notably worked with Stephan Miermont on new choreographies earlier this year, and look ready to get this season underway.
Sato Yotaro missed out on the first World Cup event due to a concussion, and for now will only compete in the mixed duet. However, head coach Nakajima Takako has already revealed in an interview that he had been training in the team routines as well beforehand. She expects for him to start working on these again soon for the World Championships in July.
After ending last season with three bronze medals at the European Championships, France returns to the international stage in front of its home crowd. The French will compete in the technical and acrobatic teams. In the former, they will unveil a new choreography to the theme of “The body’s journey through space.”
Tokyo Olympian Laura Tremble will make her comeback after missing the entire 2022 season with two knee surgeries. On the other hand, Maureen Jenkins, a fixture across all routines last year, is notably missing from the French roster.
The nation will also be back in the duet event after only competing once last year in the first virtual World Series. However this time, the duet is made of Anastasia Bayandina and Eve Planeix; Daria Bayandina, who swam alongside her twin sister last season, is another notable absentee. Bayandina and Planeix will perform to the same Nature-themed routine from last season, albeit modified and adapted to the new system.
Oriane Jaillardon will continue swimming in technical solo, performing a “Madness” routine set to the fast-paced “Cadence” by Travis Lake. Jaillardon notably won bronze in the event at the 2022 World Junior Championships, and qualified to finals at both the European and World Championships. 16-year-old phenom Laelys Alavez will swim in the free event to “Drowning” by Anne Sila. Alavez, European Youth Champion and World Youth silver medalist in solo, has been training with the senior national team since the fall and should also appear in some team routines as well.
Finally, Quentin Rakotomalala, European bronze medalist in free solo, should compete in the men solo and mixed duet events. In the latter, he now swims alongside Prune Tapié, and the pair’s “Yin and Yang” free choreography is one to watch. With the recent changes in the age limits, Rakotomalala is also still eligible for the junior category this season.
After only competing in a handful of routines at the World Championships in 2022 and skipping out on the European Championships altogether, Spain returns to the international stage. The country is expected back across all technical events, which it had also decided to forgo last year. It will be exciting to see what it has been up to here since the Olympic Games. In terms of roster, every athlete from last season has returned except Olympic reserve Abril Conesa, who announced her retirement last week.
Unlike in Markham, Spain will only have one mixed duet in each event as Dennis Gonzalez injured his foot a few weeks ago. Fernando Diaz del Rio Soto will swim alongside Emma Garcia in tech and Mireia Hernandez in free.
The women’s duet field will be highlighted by two-time Olympians, two-time European silver medalists and two-time World bronze medalists from Austria, Anna-Maria and Eirini Alexandri. Their triplet sister Vasiliki Alexandri, two-time European bronze medalist, will also be one to look forward to in the solo events. Overall, the triplets are always ones to watch, and even more so now as the new system favors their strengths, technical mastery and renowned precision. They should unveil brand new choreographies across multiple events, and already look tremendous in training.
It will also be the first time out for Great Britain’s Olympians Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe. After finishing seventh last season at the European Championships, the two have worked alongside Anastasiya Davydova on new choreographies. Fellow Olympian Bregje de Brouwer and Marloes Steenbeek will compete for the Netherlands. The pair had a great first season together in 2022, finishing fifth at the European Championships, eighth at the World Championships, and winning a bronze at the Super Final.
Duets from Belgium, Colombia, Georgia, Liechtenstein, Portugal, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Thailand will also make their season debuts. This will actually be Georgia’s first appearance in the duet event at a major senior international competition. Maria Alavidze only competed in solo in 2022 and made history after qualifying to solo finals at the European Championships. She will swim alongside Ani Kipiani, who is also 16, in Montpellier.
The duet field also includes Aruba, Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Ukraine, the U.S and Uzbekistan. All already competed earlier this year in Markham. Naturally, the Israeli pair of Shelly Bobritsky and Ariel Nassee will be one to watch after its historical gold in the technical event a few weeks ago.
Canada, Israel, Ukraine and the U.S. already competed in the first World Cup in the team events as well. Undoubtedly, all will look to show improvements to their routines here, and likely higher DDs. The Americans entered the same events as in Markham, with the addition of technical men solo where we can expect to see Kenneth Gaudet for the first time this year.
On the other hand, Canada and Israel are listed to compete in free team for the first time, while Ukraine should show its technical team routine. Tokyo Olympian Rosalie Boissonneault is still notably missing from the Canadian roster, even though she was training with the team up until late February.
Chile, Italy, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Slovakia and Thailand round out the field of competitors in the team events. Canada, Israel and Kazakhstan are the sole countries entered in all three team events.
Italy will be represented by its B squad, with a handful of junior athletes also battling it out in other events. In the mixed duet, the nation has entered its two junior pairs, who have been neck-and-neck domestically all year. Filippo Pelati and Alessia Austranti have already been swimming together internationally for over a year, notably winning bronze at the World Junior Championships last year.
On the other hand, Gabriele Minak last competed at the 2019 World Youth Championships, and has returned this season after taking a three-year break from the sport. It looks like he almost never left, and swims alongside Ginevra Marchetti, 2022 European youth silver medalist in solo. Both Italians will compete in the free solo event as well.
On top of making its first appearance of the season in the team events, Kazakhstan also will have three different mixed pairs with Eduard Kim, Artur Maidanov and Viktor Druzin. Maidanov, 17, should also compete in the acrobatic team, while Kim and Druzin will appear in the men’s solos. Kim and Maidanov made history last season by both swimming in the free combination at the World Junior Championships. This was the first time a nation had two male swimmers in a team event at a FINA competition.
Mixed duets from Chile, Colombia, Germany, Great Britain, Serbia and Thailand will make their season debuts, while Belgium returns after a successful first outing in Markham. 15-year-old Nicolas Campos from Chile is the youngest male athlete of this competition. He will certainly be one to watch as he has tremendously improved since his last outing at the World Junior Championships.
Finally, a few more nations will appear solely in the solo events, like Finland, Malta, and San Marino.
Obviously, most countries are slowly dipping their toes into the new scoring system. The number of entries in each event clearly demonstrates a preference for technical or acrobatic routines, as the free routines are the most complex to build.
No matter what, this astounding field promises an exciting and fascinating competition. All information on how to follow the meet is available at this page. Make sure to follow Inside Synchro on social media as well for live, behind-the-scenes content.
* This preview was written based on the publicly-available World Aquatics entry list. That entry list is subject to change; some nations mentioned here may ultimately not appear in the intended events.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Cover photo: Deepbluemedia
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