On the fourth day of the European Artistic Swimming Championships, Anna-Maria and Eirini Marina Alexandri of Austria claimed the Duet Free gold, their second gold at these European Championships, and thus secured their country a quota spot in the Duet event at the 2024 Olympic Games.
The day was also marked by France winning its first European team gold in 34 years in the Team Acrobatic Routine, and Spain upsetting the reigning World Champions in the Mixed Duet Free to clinch its first-ever gold in the event.
DUET FREE FINAL
The Duet Free final was undoubtedly the most anticipated event of the day, if not the entire championships. Indeed at the conclusion of the event, the top pair with the highest combined Duet Technical and Duet Free score would earn a place to the 2024 Olympic Games.
The top 12 duets from Wednesday’s preliminary competition had qualified to this final, but the scores did not carry over.
Anna-Maria and Eirini Marina Alexandri of Austria came in as the favorites after winning the Duet Technical event on Thursday, and qualifying in first place after a very strong performance in the Duet Free Preliminary.
In tonight’s final, the triplet sisters were once again undeniable, perfectly and precisely executing the most difficult routine of the field. With a 40.44 Degree of Difficulty (DD) and a total score of 256.0335 for their “Condor” routine, they became European Champions again and punched their tickets to Paris.
Certainly relieved to have secured a spot for Austria at the next Olympics, which would also be their third, the Alexandri sisters will undoubtedly now aim to be at the top of the podium again next month at the World Aquatics Championships.
Maryna and Vladyslava Aleksiiva of Ukraine, the defending European champions, had qualified in second place to this final. Once more, they successfully performed their “Scramble to Position” routine to secure silver with a score of 232.8438.
The twins earned the best artistic impression score of the evening, but couldn’t compete with the Austrians in terms of difficulty, going for the third-highest DD of the field with 35.70. Nonetheless, they were absolutely thrilled to win Ukraine’s second silver medal at these European Championships, and are motivated to finish the competition strong tomorrow in the Team Free final.
Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe of Great Britain earned the bronze with 223.5084 for their “Rising Phoenix” routine. The two, who have been swimming together since they were 10, had actually qualified to the final in fifth place after receiving one base mark in the preliminary round.
In the final, they improved tremendously and were credited their full DD of 34.5, bringing Great Britain its second artistic swimming bronze medal of the championships. Moreover, the last time the nation had won a medal in the women’s duet event was in 1993, which was coincidentally a competition where both of their mothers competed in as well.
The three medallists were the only ones to not record any base marks in their routines in this final. Italy, silver medallists in Roma 2022, placed eighth after receiving four base marks.
GOLD – Austria – Anna-Maria Alexandri, Eirini Marina Alexandri – 255.9501
Anna-Maria Alexandri: “We are extremely happy and relieved. We achieved our dream, won the gold and qualified for the Olympics. We can’t really describe our feelings now… This is so great. We’ve been working for this so hard and focused on every single moment in all our practices, we really gave everything. Today was a bit stressful before the competition, unlike in the prelims which was more like training.”
Eirini Marina Alexandri: “For me it was just the opposite, today like a training and I felt more stress on the opening day. We cannot tell which routine we did better, this one or the previous one as we need to rewatch the video. That helps a lot – honestly, sometimes it feels worse in the pool than the performance was in reality.”
“Our sister Vasiliki is at home, she got injured during our training camp in Turkey, she is checked by the doctors and hopes to be ready for the Worlds. We called her today just as on all other days, right after our routine, to check how it went. First, we talk with our coaches, then with her. If she says it was OK, then we can be happy that it really went well.”
SILVER – Ukraine – Maryna Aleksiiva, Vladyslava Aleksiiva – 232.8438
Maryna Aleksiiva: “We are happy with the second place, we didn’t have any base marks so this is great.
Competing and winning medals are important for us as we know what our country is going through. Many athletes are on the battlefield, many died, so if there is a chance to participate and show our strength, then it is our duty to do everything we could for our country.”
Vladyslava Aleksiiva: “Last year, after the war broke out, we trained in Italy. It was hard, far from our family, parents and relatives. We were thankful for everyone who helped us. Then we decided to go back to Ukraine and train in Kyiv. We are from Kharkiv, but that’s too close to the border and half of our pool was destroyed, but at least in Kyiv we are together with our family, even if sometimes it’s tough to practice there during these months.”
“Well, last year we won six gold medals at the European Championships but those came under the old rules. We basically learned the real importance of base marks with the new rules two months ago when we went to Canada for the World Cup. Until then, we didn’t really devote too much attention to these changes. We prepared in our usual way, with nice choreography, where the artistic part is as important as the difficulty. Then we learned this whole new system, but two months were not enough to adapt to it completely. Our coaches are a bit sad, telling where the artistic part will go, the overall impression, the harmony with the music… But now, we have a specialist who is doing the counting, so we’ll be much more adapted next time.”
BRONZE – Great Britain – Kate Shortman, Isabelle Thorpe – 223.5084
Kate Shortman: “We’ve been quite close for a couple of times so making a medal place is awesome.
We’ve accomplished a big goal here. We also feel honoured to sit alongside all these great athletes.
Well, we are competing with twins but sometimes we are asked if we are sisters. Obviously we’ve grown up together, known each other since the age of five, we spent so much time together that we can say we’ve merged into sisters in a way.”
Isabelle Thorpe: “I think it’s been 30 years since Great Britain won a medal at a European Championship, so this is just amazing.”
TEAM ACROBATIC ROUTINE FINAL
In the morning, seven countries participated in the Team Acrobatic Routine final, an event recently added to the Olympic Games programme ahead of Paris 2024. Unlike every other routine, only the acrobatics count towards the total Degree of Difficulty.
In Oświęcim, the three medallists from Roma 2022 were back on the podium, albeit in a different order.
This time, France became European Champion with its “Zombies” routine and a score of 214.2833. The French undoubtedly had one of their best swims of the year and were finally credited their full DD of 18.65 for the first time. They were the European bronze medallists in 2022 in this event, but this marks the country’s first gold medal as a team since 1989.
The defending European Champions of Ukraine also had one of their better performances of the year in terms of overall execution, but unfortunately received a base mark on their second acrobatic as the flier didn’t complete the jump as intended. The Ukrainians settled for silver with 208.9800 to win what was then their first medal of these championships with their “It’s Time to Smile” choreography.
Italy earned the bronze medal with 201.9900, also with one base mark. Unlike France and Ukraine, the Italians had not competed in this event yet this season. They were nonetheless confident with this “Dragons” choreography as it earned them bronze in the 2022 World Championships and silver in the 2022 European Championships. Giorgio Minisini, a staple of the Mixed Duet events over the years and reigning World and European Champion, won his first international team medal.
GOLD – France – 214.2833
Claudia Janvier: “We were surprised too to win this gold medal. It’s great for France, great for the team. We are working so hard and it’s so great to see the hard work pay off. It’s also great to have our supporters around, they are loud, they are cheering – we just feel the energy coming from the stands.”
SILVER – Ukraine – 208.9800
Marta Fiedina: “This medal means a lot to us. In the end, we are happy with the score, it’s cool to have a silver at the Europeans. Of course, we need to work on correcting our mistakes as we had a base mark today as well. This is bad and that part also makes other teams upset. Though I would say that the new system has its advantages. It’s great that today you are first but tomorrow you can finish last. This is good for the sport, for the audience, as artistic swimming is getting really exciting.”
“We try to keep our focus on the competition, but of course we are exchanging messages with our relatives at home. For example, we know that it’s really hot these days back home, but they don’t have air conditioning and electricity. But my parents tell me, don’t worry, we are OK, you just concentrate on your competition.”
BRONZE – Italy – 201.9900
Enrica Piccoli: “We are not completely satisfied with our score but now we have a new goal to correct our mistakes for the World Championships. To have Giorgio [Minisini] is an advantage and we are really happy that he is now part of the team. France did such a great job today. The order is fair, this is the new era, if you make a mistake, you go down. Now, the sport is a lot more exciting for the fans, we just need to adapt as maybe this is the right way for our sport.”
MIXED DUET FREE FINAL
The day concluded in dramatic fashion with the Mixed Duet Free Final. In their very first European Championships together, Dennis Gonzalez Boneu and Mireia Hernandez Luna of Spain upset the reigning World and European Champions of Italy to win the gold.
The Spaniards scored 210.3918 for their “Angels and Demons” routine to bring Spain the second gold medal. Gonzalez Boneu had already won silver a few days ago in the Mixed Duet Technical alongside Emma Garcia Garcia.
He and Hernandez Luna only started training together at the beginning of the season, but competed in a few World Aquatics World Cups to test out their routine. That experience undoubtedly helped them as they clearly handled the pressure beautifully to deliver a clean performance when it counted. This is Spain’s first title in the Mixed Duet at a senior European Championships.
Naturally, Giorgio Minisini and Lucrezia Ruggiero were visibly disappointed upon seeing their score of 171.9874, which included two base marks. The Italians were showing their new choreography for the first time, set to the theme of “Love Story Between Man and an Artificial Intelligence.” They did receive the highest artistic impression score of the field.
After earning bronze in the Mixed Duet Technical, Beatrice Crass and Ranjuo Tomblin of Great Britain added another bronze to their medal haul. They successfully executed their “Alice in Wonderland” routine, scoring 163.9688 with no base marks.
GOLD – Spain – Dennis Gonzalez Boneu, Mireia Hernandez Luna – 210.3918
Dennis Gonzalez Boneu: “I’ve fought a lot to achieve this medal and I’m so happy to get it. This is my first year in the senior team and the first year that we are swimming together, so this is amazing to have a gold.”
Mireia Hernandez Luna: “This is also my first year to do the mixed duet. It’s an honour to do this, I’m happy and grateful to our coaches. We are overjoyed as we’ve reached our goals here and achieved a big success.”
SILVER – Italy – Giorgio Minisini, Lucrezia Ruggiero – 171.9874
Giorgio Minisini: “(Not having guaranteed gold medals) is good for the sport. We woke up this morning and talked about how no event so far had the same winner, until the Austrian girls finished first in the duet just before our final. Putting our disappointment aside, this is really good as synchro had that problem for long years that there wasn’t competition at all. Now we have competition and there you can win and you can lose. Now we have a silver medal and it’s still a silver for our country. As for the base marks, we also tried to figure out which part was not fine, and we know that we can do better for the Worlds.”
“I’m also going to take full responsibility for what happened here as I think I wasn’t that supportive to Lucrezia as I should have been. I have my problems, but those shouldn’t come to the water. Anyway, sometimes you need to hit the bottom in order to push yourself up again. Now we are at the bottom, but it’s still a silver medal, so it’s a nice bottom after all.”
Lucrezia Ruggiero: “I’m not used to being like this (tears)… But this was a busy year both physically and mentally, and it was today that we might have finally understood that something went wrong this year. We saw that we just didn’t tell each other that, Giorgio we cannot go on like this. We’ve been working together for years, and we won a lot, so it’s OK after all that something like this happened to us here. And we still won the silver medal, so not zeroed out or finished last. We need to change something, that’s for sure… Sorry, I’m a bit emotional now. Just two hours earlier, I was in the duet which received four base marks, now we got two. So it’s not easy. This may be a new record… (Giorgio, amid laughter: “You should receive a trophy for that!”)
“Also, I’m really happy for Spain, as I know how much a gold medal helps you to train even more and be determined. And this is sport, one time me, one time you, well, it’s not nice if it’s not me but we can deal with this.”
BRONZE – Great Britain – Beatrice Crass, Ranjuo Tomblin – 163.9688
Beatrice Crass: “We’re both very excited to win another medal here. Artistic swimming isn’t as big as the other sports in Great Britain and our result shows our country that this is a sport where we can develop. And this medal is also a good message that not just females can be successful here. This podium is also great as this shows that we can achieve our dreams.”
Ranjuo Tomblin: “This is a huge step from the junior level, as this is my first year among the seniors. We are very proud of this medal and all the hard work we’ve done so far. This is definitely a good first step upon our senior debut.”
The artistic swimming competition at the III European Games concludes tomorrow at 10:00 with the Team Free Final.
By Christina Marmet / LEN