The artistic swimming European Championships got underway today in Oświęcim, Poland at the III European Games with the free duet and free team preliminary.
In the morning, 18 pairs faced off in the hopes of finishing in the top 12 to qualify to the final. Except for a few exceptions, the event was a base mark galore, and many of the top pairs will look forward to improving on Saturday for the final.
Anna-Maria and Eirini Alexandri of Austria, silver medalists at the 2015 Baku European Games, qualified in first place with a score of 265.1459. The triplet sisters unveiled their new “Condor” choreography for the first time and were awarded their full Degree of Difficulty (DD) of 40.40, the highest of the field.
“Obviously, when we’ve put together this new routine, we were very much aware of the new scoring system and calculated the highest possible DD during the planning phase as this gives you a big advantage,” they said. “Of course, it’s also a risk as a small mistake, like an unfinished rotation, can lead to a big deduction. So, we feel the pressure upon performing our routine as we know we could win big but lose big as well. Since we did difficult routines in recent years, practicing and performing this routine doesn’t feel any more physically demanding as before, but the challenge is there to reduce the number of the smallest mistakes.”
Maryna and Vladyslava Aleksiiva of Ukraine placed second with 234.0022. After competing in three World Cups this year, the twins were pleased to represent their country at these European Games.
“We are happy to be here and compete for the Olympic berth, this is our main target now,” they said. “Since September, we’ve been practicing in Kyiv because our hometown Kharkiv is close to the Russian border. It’s safer, though sometimes we cannot sleep because of the shelling. During the winter, we needed to train in wetsuits, the ones open water swimmers use, as the water was too cold. But we are here, we are ready, and we hope to achieve a good result.”
Shelly Bobritsky and Ariel Nassee of Israel qualified in third with a score of 217.3688. The two had the sixth-highest declared DD of the field with a 32.90. They may have been “playing it safe” for the preliminary round, and if so, it clearly paid off. When most of their direct competitors with higher DDs received base marks, they had a successful swim with their “A New World” routine and landed in the top three.
After competing in the technical event throughout the World Cup circuit, Iris Tió and Alisa Ozhogina from Spain finally unveiled their free duet routine. The two swam to “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and placed fourth with 210.2000. Unfortunately, they received base marks on two of their free hybrids.
Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe from Great Britain were close behind with 207.0023. They performed their “Phoenix” choreography as in the Montpellier World Cup, but suffered a base mark on their second free hybrid.
Similarly, Italy’s Linda Cerruti and Lucrezia Ruggiero received three base marks, dropping them to sixth place with a score of 193.3749. The Italians had last competed in the Markham World Cup in March and had drastically increased their DD since on their “Storm” routine. Ruggiero, who had only swam in the mixed duets on the senior stage up until this year, looked tremendously improved here. She will actually swim across all seven events for Italy at these European Games.
Bregje de Brouwer and Marloes Steenbeek of the Netherlands placed seventh with 185.2814 and two base marks for their “Werewolves” routine. Rounding out the top eight is Portugal’s Maria Beatriz Goncalves and Cheila Vieira with 183.3063. The two were awarded their full difficulty score and were ecstatic at qualifying to their second European Championships final.
Liechtenstein, Germany, Hungary and Bulgaria have also qualified to the free duet final. Germany and Bulgaria also received base marks. In the former, Klara Bleyer and Susana Rovner made their senior debuts in the duet. Both have represented the country on the junior stage over the last few years. They were Germany’s duet at the 2022 World and European Junior Championships. Hungary’s Blanka Barbocz and Angelika Bastianelli, born in 2007 and 2008 respectively, will be the youngest of the field in Saturday’s final.
With so many of the finalists receiving base marks in this preliminary round, the rankings are bound for a major shake-up on Saturday. All duets are also able to modify and increase their DD over the coming days, so fans are in for some surprises.
Denmark‘s pair of Karoline Christensen and Mia Heide notably finished 13th, the nation’s best duet finish at a European Championships in over 30 years. It is an even more impressive feat as Heide had actually originally retired after the Roma European Championships last year. At the beginning of the season, she was coaching the new duet made of Christensen and Mathea Sending. Unfortunately, Sending is out for the season with an injury, so Heide stepped back in the duet less than two months ago.
Seven nations participated in the free team preliminary, and all will go on to the final on June 25.
Competing in this event for the first time this season, Spain finished at the top with a score of 303.2751. The nation showcased a new and entertaining choreography set to the music and theme of Aladdin. It also had the highest declared DD of the field with 45.75, which was fully awarded here.
Italy settled for second with 275.4290, including a base mark, for their new routine set to the theme of “The Inclusion of Man.” Indeed, Giorgio Minisini, reigning World and European champion in the mixed duet, became the first man to swim in a team routine in a senior European Championships.
“[For men to swim in teams] is a big milestone for our sport,” he said. “Many boys can start without having to put a limit on their ambitions. Now, they can dream about the Olympic Games, World and European Championships in all the events. The sport is becoming more inclusive, and everyone will gain something from that.”
Although they received one base mark, Ukraine did improve from their Super Final performance to finish in third with 254.6542. Israel, Switzerland, Germany, and Great Britain complete the field for the final. Switzerland was the only other squad besides Spain to not receive a base mark in this event.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Cover photo: LEN / Aniko Kovacs
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