Ishchenko retains title in Solo tech, Huang home hero with silver

Shanghai 2011 - Synchronised Swimming

altFor the third straight world meet, Russia’s synchronised swimming icon Natalia Ishchenko clinched the title in the Solo technical routine on the first day of the 14th FINA World Championships synchro competition at Shanghai’s new sporting venue, the superb Oriental Sports Centre Indoor Stadium.

If the first place was virtually already reserved for the Russian world champion, the remaining podium spots welcomed two new soloists with a first success at this level: home revelation Xuechen Huang came second and Spain’s ever-impressive Andrea Fuentes, third.

The synchronised swimming competition started on a high note, celebrating its 50th final held in the FINA World Championships history. The Solo technical routine, a non-Olympic event, featured 34 countries, during which athletes must perform six required elements in a given sequence in only two minutes. Scores are given for overall impression and execution, with prominence given to the latter.

Ishchenko’s routine was an absolute flawless one, marked by technical perfection, proving once more that the Russian’s level of excellence and strong charisma are still unmatched. She obtained a near-perfect score of 98.300, sealing an expected victory.

The second best athlete in synchro international history (after teammate Anastasia Davydova)  has tallied an impressive 19 medals (all gold except two silvers) since her first podium appearance at the 2005 FINA World Championships in Montreal (CAN) where she claimed silver in the Solo. Two years later in Melbourne (AUS), she walked away with two victories in the Solo free and technical (her very first gold was at the 2006 FINA Synchronised Swimming World Cup in Yokohama, Japan) and since then, Russia’s synchro queen has established an unstoppable reign over the Solo tech.

If Russia’s hold on the top spot is unbreakable, everything seems now possible for China to challenge world number-2 Spain. Already stunning in the preliminaries, Xuechen Huang was the sensation of tonight’s opening final, claiming silver with a total score of 96.500 in front of an ecstatic home crowd.

Natalia Ishchenko (RUS) - credit: Giorgio Scala
Natalia Ishchenko (RUS) - credit: Giorgio Scala

This evening, the young Chinese prospect has achieved the best result for her country at a World Championship in a solo performance. Behind this victory, there is a name: Masayo Imura, the Japanese top-level head coach responsible for China’s first Olympic medal in Beijing (a bronze). This result is all the more impressive given the fact that no other Chinese synchro swimmer has ever climbed the podium in a Solo event (China would rather focus on the Olympic synchronised swimming events) and that tonight was the 21-year-old’s first world solo performance!

With such a striking success, China assuredly sets the tone for the days to come, not only in the solo free but also for all other events, in which they are already an established threat. Huang’s silver medal henceforth epitomizes China’s stupendous evolution on the world synchro stage. The country has found its icon.  

And this was at the Iberian’s own expense. Indeed, Andrea Fuentes, who was also presenting her first Solo at a World Championship (she has teamed up with Spain’s Solo star Gemma Mengual at the Beijing Games and in Rome, always winning silver), knew she had to give her best. Would she follow in the footsteps of her famous compatriot, maintaining her country’s silver standard in all synchro events?

Assuredly, Fuentes’ routine was outstanding; full of emotions, with a very good control of the underwater positions and every movement perfectly matching the music. Her total score, 95.300, was reflective of the extraordinary style and athleticism that were on display and this can be but promising for her future as a solo performer.

On Huang’s success, she admitted: “China had a very good performance this evening, showing great skills and artistic impression. I congratulate her.” Fuentes was also proud of her performance, letting her emotions show.  

Despite her strong performance, Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon from Canada, the bronze medallist from Rome in the same event, failed to convince the judges and had to settle for fourth. Yumi Adachi from Japan finished fifth while Ukraine’s Lolita Ananasova, the number-3 soloist in Europe, took sixth.