All eyes were undoubtedly on the free team final this afternoon in Doha, with teams and (indirectly) duets eyeing a coveted spot to the 2024 Olympic Games. In the midst of it all, already-qualified China claimed its sixth gold of these World Championships and successfully defended its World title with a 339.7604.
The five nations to secure the final spots to the Olympic Games in the team events are the USA, Spain, Japan, Italy and Canada. All competed in the Tokyo Games except the USA, which qualified a team to the Olympics for the first time since 2008.
In the morning, Cheng Wentao and Shi Haoyu of China also secured the first spot in the free mixed duet preliminary with a score of 215.2042.
FREE TEAM FINAL
With a total of 339.7604, China is back-to-back-to-back World Champion in the free team event. The Chinese team were in a class of their own with their “Galaxy” routine, pulling off the win with a 24.5-point lead. With this result, it means China has won gold in every Olympic routine at these World Championships, which is surely a great boost of confidence only six months away from the Games.
“We are very excited to achieve such a high score tonight,” Xiao Yanning said. “This is a result of all the factors together but first of all, of our hard training during the past few months. This is something we hoped for, and all the hard work paid off.”
Silver medalist in 2023, Japan once again claimed world silver in Doha for its “Chess” routine with a score of 315.2229, and qualified to Paris in the process. The nation has been at every Olympic Games in every event since the sport was introduced there, and will not miss a beat once more this cycle.
“I’m really happy,” Higa Moe said. “We got off to a slow start at the beginning of this tournament, but I think we were able to switch things up and compete as a team.”
Indeed, the Japanese squad had been off to a rough start, only managing seventh place in the acrobatic team. Obviously, they all came back stronger, first earning a bronze in the technical team before claiming silver in today’s final.
“Yes, we were slow at first, but we all changed our minds and were able to focus on what was in front of us one event at a time,” said team captain Yoshida Megumu. “We had a discussion with the whole team. If we lose emotionally, we won’t be able to go with the flow. Let’s all believe that the results will follow, and be strong and confident in our feelings. The moment we got the score today, all I could say was, ‘it was really good!’ Our goal is not here, but to win a medal at the Paris Olympics. We will work towards that now.”
“We ended up with a basemark during the acrobatic routine and couldn’t establish a good flow in our first performance in this championship,” Yanagisawa Akane continued. “It caused a lot of trouble for my teammates, and worry for me as the featured swimmer. In today’s free routine, we were able to swim without a basemark and successfully qualified for the Olympics, so I feel relieved now. However, if we don’t further increase our Degree of Difficulty at the Olympics, I believe it will be challenging to compete with the top three teams, especially in acrobatic routines. Therefore, I aim to enhance my skills as the featured swimmer.”
The USA had qualified in fourth place behind Spain, but managed quite the upset by claiming bronze with a score of 304.9021 for its “Water routine”. With it, the Americans also secured their first Olympic bid as a team since 2008.
“I can’t stop crying, I’m so happy,” Anita Alvarez said. “We have grown so much and have overcome so many challenges. It’s been a long time coming with this team. It’s an honor to be with this team and to qualify for the Olympics. It’s a long competition but I think it was a week of exceptional performances. We were up there in difficulty, and were very strong and solid all week, very focused on ourselves. We didn’t look around us, we just stayed in our bubble, and focused on what we needed to do and no one else.”
Both the Americans and the Spaniards had increased their Degrees of Difficulty (DD) ahead of this final, the latter by a full point to reach a DD of 56.70, the highest of the field.
Ultimately, Spain’s “Aladdin” choreography wasn’t quite enough to maintain the lead, and the nation dropped to fourth. However, their main goal was achieved in Doha as the squad secured a team spot once more to the Olympic Games with a total combined score of 798.652.
After this final team competition in Doha, we now have the five teams that complete the field for the Paris Games. The USA qualifies at the top of the leaderboard with 814.0654, followed by Spain, Japan (797.845), Italy (756.5996) and Canada (738.8897). Their duets also automatically qualify to the Olympics.
“Mission accomplished,” said Italian national team technical director Patrizia Giallombardo, “This result has enormous value. The girls have distinguished themselves, and we are very satisfied. We did a great job. There was no shortage of mishaps during the preparation. In the first part, Marta Iacoacci was not well and was out of the water for a month and a half, then Linda Cerruti… However, I must say that we have a temperament that leads us to fight and believe until the end.”
After the free team preliminaries, it looked like the fight for the final team spot would be between Canada and Ukraine. Using both of their scores from the preliminary, the latter actually was ahead in the total combined scores. Unfortunately, the Ukrainians didn’t have as clean of a swim today, incurring three basemarks and a major error on their second-to-last hybrid, leading to a total of 32.80 in synchronization deductions. That sadly took the reigning Olympic team bronze medalists entirely out of the running for Paris.
With these five teams qualified, a few extra duet spots have been freed up. Japan and the USA had previously qualified their duets to the Olympics via their continental championships. Now that the teams are also qualified, their duets are encompassed under that quota. This means these two continental duet quotas will be redistributed to the next-best duets in the Doha rankings.
Similarly, Spain’s duet had clinched a top three finish yesterday, but now that the team is also qualified, that duet quota is available once more, and goes to the duet of Greece (482.6918). The pairs of Israel (479.714) should also be in good shape to make it to the Paris Games.
Now, it gets a bit tricky. The Qualification Procedures posted on World Aquatics state: “The results achieved at the finals will be considered first. Any remaining quota places will be filled from the preliminary results.”
So, it is straightforward. After the team qualifications, there are only five duet spots left. Lucky for us, there are five pairs who have gotten scores in both finals: Great Britain, Netherlands, Greece, Israel and Korea. Easy peasy. There are no remaining quota places to be filled, so no need to use the preliminary results. Done.
Que nenni! Officials in Doha said that only the “final” score, ie. latest, that each country had in each event is taken into account in the calculations to determine the Olympic spots. (which is certainly very questionable and maybe it would have been better to just use preliminary scores for everyone to ensure fairness and to be able to justly add and compare scores from the same day and the same competition and the same judges, but that’s just me).
Anticipating the next question (“why risk competing in the final then?”), it was confirmed that if you qualify to the final, you have to compete otherwise you get a 0 and the preliminary score doesn’t count.
In this scenario, Ukraine‘s duet would obtain the fifth spot. Indeed, the duet of South Korea has qualified to both technical and free duet finals, but unfortunately, it didn’t have its best outing in the technical final. Sadly with this reasoning, that would be the score that counts towards its combined total, since it was their last swim in this technical event. The pair has a total of 418.1646 (technical duet final + free duet final).
On the other hand, Ukraine only made it to the free duet final, but still comes up at 444.1087 using its two latest scores (technical duet preliminary + free duet final). So Ukraine has the higher combined score of the two.
That said, it’s important to note that nothing has been officially communicated as to whether South Africa has accepted its continental duet quota to the Games. If that quota were to be freed up, problem solved, both Korea and Ukraine would go. Finally, if any other country were to reject its quota, the next duet in line is Aruba (415.8059).
Please keep in mind that this is all pending official confirmation by World Aquatics, which will hopefully come soon.
FREE MIXED DUET PRELIMINARY
In the morning, 10 pairs took part in the free mixed duet preliminaries. All had already competed in the technical event, and move on to tomorrow’s final.
The reigning World Champions of China, Cheng Wentao and Shi Haoyu claimed the top spot with 215.2042. Dennis Gonzalez Boneu and Mireia Hernandez of Spain, bronze medalists in 2023, sit in second with 202.6041. Silver medalists last year, the pair of Mexico qualified in third with 183.4813.
The other finalists are the pairs from Colombia, Serbia, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Bulgaria and Cuba.
The free duet final is scheduled for tomorrow, Friday, February 9 at 9:30 am local.
ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET
Cover photo: Deepbluemedia
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