The men and women free solo finals were the sole artistic swimming events on today’s programme at the 2023 World Championships. Dennis Gonzalez Boneu of Spain became the first World Champion in this inaugural free solo event with a score of 193.0334.
On the women’s side, the reigning champion Inui Yukiko of Japan defended her title and won her fourth World Championships solo gold with a 254.6062.
MEN FREE SOLO FINAL
Only barely 24 hours earlier, the men free solo preliminary saw 10 athletes make history by taking part in this inaugural event. All 10 had qualified for tonight’s final.
In the end, Spain was yet again at the top of the podium, this time with Dennis Gonzalez Boneu bringing home the gold with a score of 193.0334. This is Spain’s sixth medal of these championships, and third gold.
Already a two-time World Junior Champion and two-time European Junior Champion in solo, Gonzalez Boneu further made history by becoming the first World Champion in the men free solo here in Fukuoka.
“I have changed a lot of things between preliminary and finals so I didn’t expect the gold medal because it was super hard to get it,” he said. “I worked really hard yesterday to be able to do this. Now, I am trying to realize what I just accomplished, it’s a lot of emotions. It’s unbelievable and unreal. I am so happy to make history here.”
The 19-year-old had indeed drastically increased his Degree of Difficulty (DD) by 2.95 for the final, aiming for 26.25, despite the short amount of time between the preliminary and the final. He had received a base mark yesterday as well which had pushed him to fourth place. Fortunately, it all ultimately worked out for him in the final as he received full credit for his solo.
“I was really nervous because I basically changed one and a half lap completely,” he said. “It was really fast to do the changes, but I thought of everything and I swam well. I am so, so happy, and I enjoyed it a lot.”
Gonzalez Boneu also swam a different routine from what we had seen of him in the World Cup Super Final in Oviedo a few weeks ago. Back then, he was actually using the music and routine of his teammate and fellow World Champion, Fernando Diaz del Rio Soto. In Fukuoka, he performed to the song “Golden Hour” by JVKE, as he wanted something that fit his style more for his first senior World Championships.
Gustavo Sanchez of Colombia decided to play it safe and aimed for the same DD of 26.45 as in the preliminary. He had received two base marks and had finished sixth then, but had no problem in the final. He scored 189.9625 on his “Passion of Christ” routine to win silver. This is Colombia’s first medal in artistic swimming at the World Championships.
“I can’t believe it, this is all new to me,” he said. “I was already crying because I didn’t have base marks. Now I make history for Colombia. I am so happy.”
Kenneth Gaudet of the USA, silver medalist in the technical event, had placed first in the preliminary round, declaring the highest DD of the field. Although he had one base mark there, the American decided to go for more. He slightly increased his DD for the final by 0.4 to reach a total declared DD of 32.25. He received a base mark again in the final, but his performance to “Half a Man” by Dean Lewis was enough for the bronze and a score of 179.5562.
“I wanted to keep pushing myself,” he said. “This was my plan since the beginning. I had a finals version and a prelims version of the routine that I was ready to execute. I knew how much my competitors were willing to push and I wanted to show I was ready to push harder. It wasn’t the result that I had imagined ideally, but I was ready to take the risk. In the end, I feel very proud of what I accomplished today and at this meet. I can go home very happy.”
Sato Yotaro of Japan managed to move up one spot since the preliminary with his “Aliens” routine, but he unfortunately received a base mark again and finished fourth with a score of 167.9709.
Ranjuo Tomblin of Great Britain had qualified in third but incurred a base mark in the final and ranked fifth with a score of 166.1792. Eduard Kim of Kazakhstan had placed second yesterday, but didn’t swim in the final tonight.
WOMEN FREE SOLO FINAL
Inui Yukiko of Japan won her fourth World Championship gold, and second in Fukuoka, in the women free solo final, confirming she is the indisputable queen of the event again, and no matter the scoring system. After qualifying to the final in first place, the 32-year-old was again credited her full DD of 38.95, and scored 254.6062 for her “Orochi” routine.
Vasiliki Alexandri of Austria claimed her second silver medal of these World Championships with a score of 229.3251 for her “Nature” choreography. She had qualified to the final in sixth place after receiving three base marks.
However, just like her sisters did in the free duet, she removed all of her unbalanced R7s ahead of the final to play it safe. Her DD thus dropped by 4.40, but the strategy paid off as she was credited her full difficulty of 35.70 tonight.
“It all felt very clear to me in the water,” she said. “When I finished, I was actually almost sure that it was all correct. This medal feels amazing. When I was up there again on the podium, I thought about many things, but mostly that this success is not the work of one or two years, but of 22 years. It’s been our whole life really. I feel very happy, grateful and thankful for the support of my sisters. We support each other a lot, also in training, we correct each other, we all work together. So, this is not only my success, but also theirs, and our success together.”
Kate Shortman won Great Britain’s first medal at a World Championships, scoring 219.9542 for the bronze. She had qualified to the final in second, and was able to repeat her clean performance in the final even after increasing her DD to 32.90. She swam to the theme of “Unrequited Love,” and admitted she was thrilled yet pleasantly surprised with this result as this has been the routine she’s worked on the least this season.
“I can’t even put it into words,” she said. “I am so excited. This is a crazy step in the right direction for Great Britain. I swam my heart out and was really thinking about staying precise, controlled and not getting too excited with the prelim score. I didn’t want to run away with it. Really, I just needed to control and perform the best I could.”
Shortman had the fifth-highest DD of the field, but had made a conscious choice of playing it safe and ensuring she could properly execute every element.
“Yes, I knew the R7s were quite risky and I didn’t want to go too high-risk,” she continued. “I know a lot of the other soloists did, and unfortunately it didn’t pay off for some of them. They have been really strict here on base marks. I wanted to do the best I could, and that meant a no-basemark swim.”
Canada’s Audrey Lamothe had finished eighth in the preliminary round, but earned her full DD of 32.60 in the final to finish fourth with a score of 207.4480.
Evangelia Platanioti of Greece had placed third in the preliminary round with two base marks. Tonight, she truly shone and left it all out in the pool, receiving the second-highest artistic impression score of the final. Unfortunately, she again had two base marks, which dropped her to fifth place with a score of 205.5459.
Hur Yoonseo of Korea finished sixth with a score of 186.6167 and a basemark-less performance. Hur hadn’t competed in free solo this year up until Fukuoka, and unveiled her choreography to the theme of love. Her season is not yet over as she will compete next in the duet at the Asian Games in September.
Jasmine Verbena of San Marino made history by qualifying her country to a World Championships final for the first time. She had already came quite close last year, finishing 13th at the 2022 World Championships. In Fukuoka, she swam to “I Won’t Complain” by Benjamin Clementine, and was also awarded her full DD for a final score of 186.4918 and seventh place.
Ece Ungor of Türkiye and Matea Butorac of Croatia also both helped their countries to first appearances in a World Championships final. They placed 10th and 11th with scores of 160.4291 and 151.1520, respectively. Ungor, 16 years old, was the youngest of the field alongside France’s Laelys Alavez.
“When my coach and I found out I was in the final, we were jumping, screaming, hugging each other,” Ungor said. “We couldn’t believe it, we even checked one more time to make sure. I am so happy and honored to be the one representing my country here for the first time. The final was so exciting, I wanted to enjoy every moment, really look into the eyes of the judges. Words can’t describe my feelings right now.”
“We had set the goal with my coach to do everything clean and without base marks,” Butorac said. “We weren’t thinking of the final at all, so we were thrilled. Actually, we were supposed to go back to Croatia so we needed to change all our plans, the hotel, the flights because I was in the finals. It’s a big opportunity for me and I couldn’t believe it. I was really happy with my performance in the preliminary; now I am not so satisfied because of the base marks. But I was in the final, so I am very happy about that.”
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
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