The fourth day of artistic swimming at the 2023 World Championships was marked by the inaugural technical men solo final; an event appearing on the competition programme for the first time. Fernando Diaz del Rio Soto of Spain became the first World Champion, while Kenneth Gaudet of the USA and Eduard Kim of Kazakhstan completed this historical podium.
In the evening final, China won its first gold medal of the competition in the acrobatic team, followed by the USA in silver and Japan in bronze. This event was historical in its own way as all three of these teams featured a man.
Finally, the women’s free solo preliminary took place in the morning, and the defending World Champion Inui Yukiko of Japan qualified to the final in first with a score of 253.1853.
TECHNICAL MAN SOLO FINAL
The inaugural and historical medals in the men’s solo event were handed out today in Fukuoka. This is the first time men solos have been on the programme of a senior World Championships.
Fernando Diaz del Rio Soto of Spain became the first World Champion in the technical event with a score of 224.5550, swimming to “Unholy” by Sam Smith.
“I haven’t realized yet,” he said. “I think in a few days I will. At the moment, I’m just very happy. I am very grateful to be able to compete in solo with the other guys. We have done many competitions together before, it really feels like a little synchro family, so it’s beautiful for us to be able to do this here.”
Diaz del Rio Soto, 20, is now done for these World Championships, but his season is not quite over yet. He will compete next at the European Junior Championships scheduled for the beginning of August in Portugal.
Kenneth Gaudet of the USA won silver with a score of 216.8000, swimming to “Caught in the Fire” by Bazzi. The 18-year-old was visibly emotional upon winning this medal and being part of this historical event.
“I am so happy, I can’t stop crying,” he said, teary-eyed. “This is history. We finally get our chance to swim just like everyone else. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just… Wow. I can’t stop crying! All these other guys have probably gone through the same pains as I have growing up into this sport. So it’s crazy that we can finally have the chance to stand on the podium like everyone else. That we get to have our individual moment. All we ever wanted was for the sport to just be inclusive, and we are finally getting that recognition.”
Gaudet had come into this final with the highest declared Degree of Difficulty (DD) of the field at 28.60, which also was an increase of 0.95 from the preliminary.
“It was scary,” he said of upping his DD. “I was so scared during the entire practice today, constantly being told ‘just focus, stay in the moment, take one thing at a time.’ I was getting in my head a lot, I didn’t know if I was ready, if I could do this… But as soon as I dove in that water, game on. I was ready.”
The biggest rise in difficulty came from Eduard Kim of Kazakhstan. He increased his DD by 1.85, which was risky in itself as he had two base marks in the preliminary round. However, it paid off in the final and he was credited his full DD of 27.30 for his routine set to “SOS d’un terrien en détresse” performed by Dimash Kudaibergen. That helped him jump from fifth to third, and thus win the bronze medal.
“This feels really good,” he said. “My team is happy and I made history for my country. But honestly, I am so tired today! It has been long days with training, warm-ups, the competition…It’s hard. But it’s epic to be part of this, and it’s epic for boys and artistic swimming.”
This is Kazakhstan’s first medal at the World Championships. Kim had already made history for his country in 2019 by becoming World Youth Champion in mixed duet.
Gustavo Sanchez of Colombia had placed third after the preliminary round, although with one base mark. For the final, he actually slightly decreased his DD, going from 28.35 to 28.15. Sadly, he received a base mark again on the same hybrid in the final. As the other competitors put out clean performances, Sanchez ultimately wasn’t able to cling to a podium spot.
France’s Quentin Rakotomalala had qualified in fourth but unfortunately received two base marks in the final, which dropped him down to eighth place.
ACROBATIC TEAM FINAL
The acrobatic team final was historical in its own way, as all three teams standing on the podium featured a man. Shi Haoyu became a World Champion alongside the Chinese team while Bill May won silver with the American squad, and Sato Yotaro added a bronze to his medal haul with the Japanese team.
China won the gold medal with a score of 238.0033 for its “Light of Life” choreography. Since the acrobatic team was added to the Olympic Games programme, the Chinese have appeared in this event throughout the World Cup circuit this year to test the waters, since they had never competed in it before.
“We are all very happy to be able to get a gold medal in this event,” Feng Yu said. “I feel that everyone in the team is very supportive of each other, we are proud of each and every member of our team. The gold medal in this event represents a significant milestone achieved for China as the event is rather challenging.”
Even though they had qualified in first place, the Chinese still increased their DD since the preliminary, going from 20.35 to 20.95, notably by adding difficulty to their final platform acrobatic. The risk paid off as they didn’t receive any base marks and secured their first gold of these World Championships.
“We did change one lift,” Feng continued. “It was about yesterday afternoon that we decided to implement the change and try it out. This morning, it seemed like we could execute it quite well and hence decided to give it a shot in the finals.”
The USA had qualified to the final in second and with the highest DD of the field with a 21.50. The Americans didn’t make any changes for the final, and they again nailed all their acrobatics to secure the silver medal with their “Amazons” routine. This is the US’ first team medal since 2007.
“We feel amazing,” Anita Alvarez said. “So much has been going on with the new system, we are trying to take it in and make the most of it, trying to implement the difficulty while keeping the artistic. We also try to focus on ourselves and our team because there’s so much stress in the stadium because of the new system. Coming into the final in the second position is new for us; we haven’t been in such a position in years so it was huge. But again, we stayed in our own bubble and tried to not let that pressure hit us, focusing on what we’ve been doing every day in training.”
Like China, this is the first season that Japan competes in the acrobatic team. The Japanese had qualified in fourth place behind Ukraine, but ultimately moved up to third place in the final with their energetic “Formula One” routine and a score of 220.5867. The home team has now won a medal in every event it has entered so far in Fukuoka.
“We are really surprised that we got this medal,” Yoshida Megumu said. “But this is a first step for us in this event, and we would like to keep it going.”
Yoshida also explained that having Sato Yotaro on the team has helped them improve their power and strength in the water, while Sato admitted he has been having a lot of fun swimming with his teammates in this event. It’s however not his first time competing in a team as he is a World Junior Champion in the free combination event.
Mexico finished fourth with its “Aztec Warriors” routine and a score of 215.7267. The Mexicans had received a base mark on their third acrobatic in the preliminary, and changed that acro entirely for the final. Their DD was also ultimately upped by 0.30 for the final, and the strategy paid off as they received full credit this time around.
Unfortunately, Ukraine, defending world champion, received a base mark on its sixth acrobatic and hence landed in seventh place. Italy was the only other team to have base marks in this final, receiving two of them and thus finishing in 12th place.
WOMEN FREE SOLO PRELIMINARY
The day started early in Fukuoka with the women’s free solo preliminary round. 29 soloists competed in the event, vying for a top 12 finish to make it to the final later this week.
Only five soloists managed to get credited for their full DD, and all made it to the final: Inui Yukiko of Japan, Kate Shortman of Great Britain, Hur Yoonseo of Korea, Jasmine Verbena of San Marino and Matea Butorac of Croatia.
Japan’s Inui Yukiko, reigning world champion in the event, qualified to the final in first with a score of 253.1853. She earned her full DD of 38.95 for her “Orochi” routine, depicting the legendary giant snake with eight heads.
Kate Shortman of Great Britain competed in the free solo event for the first time this season, swimming to the theme of “Unrequited Love.” She was also credited her full DD of 32.00 and scored 213.8417 to qualify to the final in second position.
Similarly, Evangelia Platanioti of Greece unveiled a new free solo, swimming to “Say Something” by Alex Preston. She received two base marks for her final hybrids, but her score of 199.4834 was ultimately enough for third place in this preliminary round.
The other finalists are Hur Yoonseo (Korea), Jasmine Verbena (San Marino), Vasiliki Alexandri (Austria), Iris Tió (Spain), Audrey Lamothe (Canada), Matea Butorac (Croatia), Ece Ungor (Türkiye), Kyra Hoevertsz (Aruba) and Laelys Alavez (France).
Alexandri, who won silver in technical solo two days ago, had declared a DD of 39.40, the highest of the event. Unfortunately, she suffered three base marks which dropped her to sixth place. Tió, bronze medalist in technical solo, received three base marks as well and finished in seventh place. Similarly, Alavez had three base marks but managed to make it to the final in the last spot with 150.4520.
This final will be a historical one for Türkiye and Croatia, which will appear in an artistic swimming World Championships final for the first time.
Unfortunately, Susanna Pedotti of Italy, who finished fifth in technical solo a few days ago, received four base marks, dropping her to 21st. Similarly, Marlene Bojer of Germany, who had finished 10th in 2022 in this event, had four base marks and dropped to 23rd.
The women’s free solo final will take place on Wednesday, July 19 at 7:30 pm local.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
All photos: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia
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