Held only a few days after the Montpellier leg, the third World Cup event of the season saw 27 nations participate across the 11 events of artistic swimming. The vast majority of athletes came straight from Montpellier, France to Soma Bay, Egypt. Most used the few days in between to nonetheless increase their Degrees of Difficulty (DD), to the extent possible, in order to get a shot at the podium.
In Soma Bay, Spain and Mexico topped the medal standings after three days of competitions. Both earned three gold medals each for a total of six and four medals overall respectively.
Making its season debut, Mexico was undoubtedly the team most eagerly awaited at this competition. The squad won gold in free duet, technical team and acrobatic team, and bronze in the free mixed duet.
The team’s participation was however up in the air until the last minute. The squad has indeed faced difficulties due to conflicts amongst federations and government entities, ultimately leading to a significant loss of funding.
In short, the Mexican Swimming and Diving Federation (FMN) is in the middle of a massive strife with World Aquatics since essentially 2016. While the FMN and World Aquatics took their issues to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Ana Guevara, the head of Mexico’s National Sports Commission (CONADE), cut funding and financial support for all aquatic sports and athletes last January. This is the shortcut version of a long story, but you can read more about it here, here, here, or here.
So, the artistic swimming team had resorted to selling swimsuits and towels designed with monarch butterflies, their free team theme last season, to raise funds. But it is ultimately through the help of Mexican entrepreneurs and business magnates such as Carlos Slim and Arturo Elías Ayub, as well as other sponsors, that they were able to attend this World Cup to test out their routines and compete under the new scoring system.
Their first gold came in the technical team event, where they unveiled a new program set to “Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen. Despite receiving a base mark on their opening acrobatic, they scored 270.1584, enough to finish ahead of Italy and France.
“I can’t tell you how much this gold medal makes me feel,” team flier Jessica Sobrino wrote on Instagram afterwards. “Truly after everything we have lived through these last few months, the lack of resources and the search for support […] Listening to the Mexican national anthem was priceless. It was worth every day of pressure, stress, tears, and uncertainty. And above all, it recharges me for what is to come.”
On the final day of competition, Mexico won two more golds: one in free duet (325.6584) with Olympians Nuria Diosdado and Joana Jimenez, and the other in the acrobatic team (227.6626). The duet unveiled a new “Flight of the Phoenix” free choreography, while the team kept its “Aztec Warriors” acrobatics routine from last season.
The same day, the new mixed pair of Itzamary Gonzalez and Diego Villalobos earned bronze with their “La Llorona” free routine and a score of 255.3417. Villalobos is certainly one to keep an eye on this season, as he looks greatly improved and makes for a great match with Gonzalez.
Leaving this World Cup with four medals, including three golds, the team is now hopeful that they will garner even more support at home. The social media engagement and numbers are clear: this Mexican team is certainly and already a trending topic nationwide. The squad arrived back to Mexico today, and was already swarmed by journalists and TV reporters at the airport. Next, they aim to compete at the Central American and Caribbean Games at the end of June.
Although present with a small roster, Spain won a medal in every event it entered and topped the final medal standings. The Mediterranean nation, which will host the Super Final in a few weeks, came away with three golds, a silver, and two bronze.
The Tokyo Olympic duet of Iris Tio and Alisa Ozhogina won the technical event with their “Baseball” routine set to “Proud Mary” by Tina Turner with a score of 261.8625. Although slightly behind the French pair in Montpellier by less than a point, the Spanish comfortably moved ahead this time around. Tio also won another World Cup medal in technical solo, a silver this time, with a score of 262.9333. Both the Spanish solo and duet had increased their DDs since Montpellier by 1.4 and 3.45, respectively.
“Right after Montpellier, we decided to only make little adjustments knowing we had a really small amount of time to prepare,” head coach Mayuko Fujiki said. “Iris and Alisa adapted very quickly, and they swam very well in Egypt, so we are very happy with that. Our calendar is full from now on, with the Super Final, the European Games, and Japan shortly after for the World Championships. We will keep adding difficulty content in the routines and be at our peak for the most important meet.”
Additionally, Fernando Diaz del Rio Soto secured two bronze medals in the men’s solos, and two golds in the mixed duets alongside Emma Garcia in tech and Mireia Hernandez in free.
In the women’s solo, Austria’s Vasiliki Alexandri had no problems this time around in her technical routine. She secured the gold with a 263.8959, although only very slightly ahead of Tio by 0.9626 points. Alexandri did unfortunately receive a base mark in her free routine, which dropped her to second behind China’s Dai Shiyi who scored 338.2750
Oriane Jaillardon from France won bronze in technical solo with her “Madness” routine. She had upped her DD by 4.95 since Montpellier. In free solo, the bronze went to Germany’s Marlene Bojer with a score of 289.8542. Bojer not only bounced back from the disappointment of the last World Cup, where she received base marks on both her routines, but also from the technical solo final the day before.
“I can say that I am proud to change my routines and adapt to the system within a few days,” she said. “I was very disappointed with my technical routine. Although the rest of the performance was not bad, only the base mark stuck in my head. We had changed every hybrid of my free solo in training but also made another risky decision directly after the technical solo. Originally, there should have been two more T9s in my free routine. But we quickly decided to take out these risky moves and replace them with a couple of R7s. All the mental and physical stress of the second World Cup in a row was worth it, and thanks to the mathematics behind our sport, it was enough for bronze.”
Similarly, San Marino’s Jasmine Verbena recovered from base marks and disappointments from Montpellier. In Soma Bay, she collected two fourth-place finishes, a great sign for the 23-year-old who aims to qualify for finals at the World Championships.
“Montpellier had a bittersweet taste because I had two good swims but took base marks in both routines,” she said. “Of course, I wasn’t satisfied. Doing this competition in Egypt right after was really important. And I’ve learned that everything can happen with this new system. My goal here was to swim clean without any base marks, and of course enjoy it. This time, I’m really happy with everything.”
A few soloists faced some difficulties during the solo events. In the technical solo, the music of Joana Jimenez from Mexico stopped in the middle of the routine. She got to swim again later and scored 215.5583 for sixth place. Performing two spots down, Emma Grosvenor from Switzerland also had issues, with her music starting three seconds into the song.
In the free solo, Kazakhstan’s Karina Magrupova appeared unwell in the middle of her routine and had to be rescued by lifeguards. She is listed as “Did Not Finish” on the scoresheet, but had seemingly recovered well enough to swim in the free team routine later that day.
As for the men, 16-year-old Yang Shuncheng from China had an outstanding debut performance. He claimed victory in both technical and free event, with the highest total DDs of the entire field. He swam to The Cello Song by The Piano Guys in tech and “Warriors of the Night” in free, displaying incredible potential and technique.
“I thought about the victory, but I tried not to think too much,” Yang told the Chinese press. “It was my first international competition, and I was very nervous before the event. I was lucky to win and feel the taste of gold medals.”
Overall, it was great to see two Chinese soloists again. The last and only time the nation entered the event during the previous Olympic cycle was at the 2019 Japan Open. While this marked Yang’s international debuts, Dai Shiyi has a lot more experience on her resume. The 24-year-old has been on and off the Chinese national team over the last few years. She was part of the free combination routine that won silver at the 2019 World Championships.
Finally, Bulgaria’s Dimitar Isaev made his first appearance on the artistic swimming scene in both solo and mixed duet. While he only started synchro last September, Isaev is no stranger to major international competitions. Indeed, he was a member of the Bulgarian diving national team for 15 years, and last competed in that sport at the 2022 European Championships last summer.
In the women’s duet, Bregje de Brouwer and Marloes Steenbeek from the Netherlands were particularly strong here, winning a silver in free and bronze in tech. They had already introduced their two new choreographies – “Disco” in tech, and “Werewolves” in free – the previous weekend in Montpellier. Like most, they took advantage of the few days in between to increase their DDs, notably by 3.2 in the free event.
“After the free duet competition in Montpellier, we decided to jump directly back into the pool to start working on increasing our DD,” de Brouwer said. “We had to do it because there was not a lot of time, and doing nothing was not an option at all. It wasn’t really a difficult and interesting strategy, just doing what everyone is doing right now: R7 R7 R7!”
“The medals feel good because we worked hard on the duets,” Steenbeek said. “Only with the new system, it is taking away a bit of the fun. After Montpellier, we had one training to change the DD of both duets, so we did it very quickly. We are getting used to changing at the last moment, and we need to adapt really fast if it happens during a competition too. It’s risky but that is how the sport is now. We did it, so we are happy.”
Although ranked 11th in the free duet because of a base mark, Maria Goncalves and Cheila Vieira from Portugal are two to keep an eye on. They received the second-highest artistic impression score of the entire field, a 87.1500, for their “Fire Ritual” routine.
In the team events, Italy’s junior squad showed great consistency between Montpellier and Soma Bay, and came away with the gold in free and silver in tech. The junior and senior national duet champion made of Alessia Macchi and Susanna Pedotti also won bronze in the free event with their “Panthers” routine.
In addition to the duet silver and solo bronze, France earned two more bronze medals in the technical and acrobatic team events. Undoubtedly, these medals must feel more bitter than sweet as the squad suffered a base mark in each routine, and notably dropped by nearly 30 points in the technical event since Montpellier. On top of it all, they also had to deal with a last-minute change, with Oriane Jaillardon stepping into the technical routine to replace Laura Tremble who was ill. However, the French did notably receive the highest artistic impression marks in both finals.
Kazakhstan was the sole country entered in all 11 events, a first across any competition this season. The nation wrapped up a successful meet by earning a silver in acrobatic team, a day after winning bronze in free team. The mixed pair of Nargiza Bolatova and Eduard Kim also added another silver to the team’s total in the technical event. They scored 229.1042, including a base mark on their first acrobatics.
Finally, Egypt made its season debut in front of its home crowd and showed great improvement. Along with the Kazakh, the Egyptians were entered across all three team events. It was fantastic to see the nation participate in this competition, as it had never entered any World Series/World Cup meet as a team since the creation of the circuit. Their “Catching” free routine was particularly thrilling for the crowd, and even more so after they found out they won a historical silver medal with a score of 285.0397.
Their “Lion King” remixed acrobatic team was just as much as a crowd pleaser; they placed fourth with 194.3792. This was the first time the nation competed in this event, formerly known as highlight.
“We’ve been practicing and focusing since October to perform new and creative routines,” Olympian Nihal Saafan said. “We want to challenge ourselves and prove to everyone that the Egyptian team is here to win, not just perform. The whole team is feeling extraordinarily happy. Now, we’ll keep working and grinding for the upcoming events as we’ll be craving for more achievements.”
Finally, Toulan Ben Abdel Fattah made history by representing Tunisia for the first time at a major World Aquatics international event. She swam in the free solo and scored 126.3249. It is overall very exciting to see artistic swimming grow on the African continent, with athletes from Morocco and South Africa also competing in Soma Bay.
The World Cup circuit will wrap up in Oviedo, Spain, with the Super Final on June 2 – 4.
Article by Christina Marmet
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