Indomitable Ishchenko, Fuentes at her best

Shanghai 2011 - Synchronised Swimming

altThe story of Natalia Ishchenko is one made of sacrifice, perseverance, vision and some luck. Like all the champions’ stories. In a big nation like Russia, it is not easy to be noticed in an artistic sport. Moreover, being spotted while still a teenager is more of a challenge than a blessing. But Natalia was courageous and remained determined. Back then, some years ago, and now, while flawlessly performing at the World Championships stage.

Winner of the Solo free event tonight in Shanghai, with an unbeatable score of 98.550, her story started when she was young and learning rhythmic gymnastics. The Russian great got noticed while competing at a junior competition by Tatiana Pokrovskaia, head coach of the national team since 1998 (the year Russia made its first gold sweep in all synchro events at World Championships in Perth, Australia).

At 14, Ishchenko realises her dream when she moves to the capital to train in the country’s best sport facilities. Around 16, she starts competing in the Duet with teammate Olga Kuzhela. In the eyes of the Russian coaches, both have the potential to become a solo performer but they do not know who to choose. In 2004, Ishchenko is the one to swim the Solo at the European Championships in Madrid, Spain. What happens next is a known story.

The best solo performer in action, now coached by Tatiana Danchenko (for Solo and Duet), continues to impress with her theatrical skills, all-perfect technique and undeniable charisma. Tonight, she swam a dramatic and powerful routine to the theme “Witch”.

But the audience and judges witnessed also another type of performer at the Shanghai Oriental Sport Centre this evening, one that is “in the making”. Swimming to the song “Non, je ne regrette rien” by French legend Edith Piaf, Andrea Fuentes from Spain delivered a passionate and moving artistic programme, which earned her a total 96.520. With a silver medal in her first solo performance, the Spaniard perpetuates the silver streak of compatriot Gemma Mengual from Rome.

“The character of this song is very important to me. Apart from the fact that this is my mom’s favourite song (who is French), I believe I have a little of France in my blood,” Fuentes admitted following the event. “I love the message of this song, which says that no matter what happens in life, whether good or bad, you keep going forward. To me that’s what life is about,” she continued.

Andrea Fuentes (ESP) - Credit: Giorgio Scala
Andrea Fuentes (ESP) - Credit: Giorgio Scala

“I was very worried before my performance as I wasn’t feeling strong because I swam in all the events. But in the end, I relaxed a little and told myself ‘this is part of the sport’ and I just swam with my soul,” she simply said.  

Her coach Anna Tarres was very proud of her: “This routine is physically demanding and we were not very sure whether she could handle it (considering Fuentes was performing in all routines) but her maturity, her will to win got the best of her.”

Wenyan Sun from China brings the second medal in Solo to her country (a bronze) and dazzled the judges and home crowd with an enchanting routine, receiving an overall 95.840. She later said on her result: “I did a good job on my routine but I am still lacking some skills”.   

For Canadian Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon who took fourth with 94.910, the game isn't over yet: “All we hope for future competitions is to perform well and try to show the judges that we have a place on the podium before the end of the competition”.

Japan’s Yumi Adachi achieved her goal by finishing in the top-5 while Lolita Ananasova from Ukraine took a disappointing sixth place.

18-year-old Linda Cerruti from Italy finished in seventh, already demonstrating a high level of performance despite her young age. “We are very glad of her performance. She’s still young and will be our soloist, so her result is a good start,” said coaches Roberta Farinelli and Yumiko Tomomatsu.

British Jenna Randall was very satisfied with her eighth place finish: “I've been working a lot on my technical ability in the water and I feel like this year is taking a big step up from last year so I’m really pleased of both my (Solo) swims”.

Despoina Solomou (GRE), Anastasia Gloushkov (ISR), Gyong Ok Wang (PRK) and Sona Bernardova (CZE) closed the Solo free final ranking.

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