Anna-Maria and Eirini Alexandri of Austria won their first World title today in Fukuoka in the free duet event with a score of 255.4583. The triplet sisters, who also are the reigning European Champions, bring home Austria’s first-ever gold medal in artistic swimming at the World Championships.
In the morning, 19 nations participated in the free team preliminary event. The team of China placed first with a score of 322.2731 and will lead the field of 12 finalists heading into tomorrow’s final.
FREE DUET FINAL
Anna-Maria and Eirini Alexandri of Austria became World Champions for the first time with a score of 255.4583 for their “Condor” routine.
The Alexandri sisters, who just won their first European titles a few weeks ago, had qualified in first place and decided to increase their Degree of Difficulty (DD) from the preliminary round, going from 39.85 to 41.05 in the final. It was ultimately the right call, as they were credited for every element and stayed ahead of the defending champions from China by only 0.2103 points.
“I can’t process this title,” Anna-Maria said. “The meaning of this… It’s unbelievable…”
“We had set two goals at the beginning of the year,” Eirini continued. “The Olympic Qualification at the European Games, that was the most important, and then maybe a gold medal at the World Championships. After Sunday, this was very important for us, and also difficult to remain focused and calm in our mind.”
Indeed, the sisters had to quickly bounce back from Sunday’s disappointment as they finished fifth in the technical duet final after initially qualifying in second.
“Sunday was a difficult night,” Anna-Maria said. “But we tried to remind ourselves that we are qualified for the Olympics, which was our most important goal. So now, we could only show to the world that we can swim well and without base marks. We also wanted to do it for ourselves, we knew that if we remained calm, we could do it. We are relieved, and now we have holidays, finally! It was a very hard year for us, maybe the hardest of our career, but we did it all.”
Wang Liuyi and Wang Qianyi of China, the 2022 World Champions, earned silver with a score of 255.2480 for their “Cheetah” choreography. Unlike the Austrians, the Chinese had decided to decrease their DD by 0.75 for this final after finishing ninth in the preliminary with three base marks.
“We completely changed our tactics in the final,” Liuyi explained. “We changed six of the seven hybrids, so it almost felt like swimming a different routine. In the final, we tried to stay focused and we think we did well with this routine; we have been training very hard since the preliminary.”
They actually “only” had the seventh-highest declared DD of the final, 38.75, but their strong execution and high artistic impression led them to second place. The twins still have one more event to go in Fukuoka with the free team final. Their season is not quite over yet either as they and the Chinese squad will fight for an Olympic quota at the Asian Games in September.
Just like China, Japan’s Higa Moe and Yasunaga Mashiro played it safe for the final and decreased their DD to 39.40, versus 41.05 in the preliminary round. Back then, it didn’t go so well for them as they had four base marks and placed 11th, once again barely making it into the final like in the technical event.
The Japanese pair, who is World Champion in technical duet, swam first and managed a clean swim for a score of 249.5167, even receiving a 10 from one judge for their opening acro. Yasunaga started crying from relief as their score came up and she realized they had managed a basemark-less swim with their “Black Panther” choreography.
Ukraine’s Maryna and Vladyslava Aleksiiva had qualified in second place, and had kept the same declared DD of 40.25 for the final. Sadly, the 2022 World silver medalists and reigning European silver medalists received a base mark on their second-to-last hybrid, dropping them to sixth place with a score of 224.6375.
Similarly, Megumi Field and Ruby Remati of the USA had managed a clean outing in the preliminary and had ranked third, but had one base mark in the final. They placed seventh with a 209.5187.
The two duets that really went for the strategy of “high risk, high reward” were those of Israel and Spain. The Israelis increased their DD by 2.20 while the Spaniards went all in and upped their DD by 4.25. Neither pair had any base marks then so they simply decided to go for it.
It worked quite well for Shelly Bobritsky and Ariel Nassee of Israel as they received their full DD of 39.1 for their “New World” routine. The two, who have only been swimming in duet together for a little over a year, managed a historical fourth-place finish for their country.
On the other end, the risk didn’t pay off for Alisa Ozhogina and Iris Tió of Spain, who won bronze in the technical event on Sunday. Swimming to “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore, they ultimately finished 11th with a score of 175.7437 and three base marks.
Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe of Great Britain lowered their DD by 1.3 for the final after receiving two base marks in the preliminary. It paid off as they were credited their full DD of 35.00 and finished fifth with a total of 226.4834. This is Great Britain’s highest finish at a World Championships in the duet event since 1986.
FREE TEAM PRELIMINARY
19 nations competed in the free team preliminary round in the morning, hoping to land in the top 12 to make the final. Of the 19, only Great Britain didn’t receive any base marks.
China, the reigning world champion, finished first with a score of 322.2731. While the Chinese have competed extensively in the technical and acrobatic team events this season, this was the first time they swam their new “Gravitation” routine. They had declared the highest DD of the event with 47.90, but they did receive a base mark on their last acrobatic, which slightly dropped their DD to 46.30. Their fantastic execution and artistic impression helped them stay at the top of this preliminary round.
Spain, reigning European champion, finished second with a score of 294.9313 for their engaging “Aladdin” routine. The Spaniards, who won gold in technical team earlier this week, had increased their DD by nearly a point since the European Games to reach a declared total of 46.70, the second-highest of this preliminary. They did have a base mark on their second-to-last hybrid today.
Japan, the 2022 bronze medalist, ranked third with a score of 322.2731 with its “Chess” routine. The Japanese had declared the third-highest declared DD of 46.00, but also had a base mark on one of their free hybrids. Ukraine, the 2022 silver medalists also had a base mark on a hybrid and qualified to the final in fourth with a score of 275.7209.
The other qualified nations are the USA, Israel, Italy, Great Britain, Greece, Egypt, Australia and Kazakhstan. The gap between the USA and Israel, European bronze medalists, is only 0.0106 points, but again both received base marks.
The Americans swam their free team routine for the first time this season, sticking to their creative “Water” choreography but obviously adapting it to the new rules. They placed fifth with a score of 251.9500. Similarly, Greece showed its new “Warriors” free team choreography for the first time, and ranked ninth with 221.8460.
Italy, European silver medalists, had three base marks and significant synchronization mistakes on the final hybrid, where two athletes forgot a few movements. The Italians however managed to get to the final in seventh place with a score of 233.1010, and will certainly look to not incur such major synchronization errors in the final.
Australia and Egypt not only made the final again but most importantly earned their tickets to the 2024 Olympic Games through their respective continental quota places for Oceania and Africa. Both of their teams and duets will be in Paris next summer.
The USA, Chile and Costa Rica were the sole countries representing the American continent in this event. Chile’s routine was set to the theme of “We are the new humanity”, with the music featuring all the swimmers’ voices. The creative and artistic choreography was actually quite popular with the home crowd. The Chileans placed 14th with a score of 182.3626, and will look forward to competing next at home at the Pan American Games in Santiago.
The women’s free team final will take place on Friday, July 21 at 7:30 pm local.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
All photos: Andrea Staccioli / Deepbluemedia
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