Bicycle allows Canada to fly

Shanghai 2011 - Synchronised Swimming

altA bicycle, by nature, is a relatively slow means of transport. In Canada, it has wings and allows to fly. Nonsense? Not in the case of the local synchronised swimming teams. In 2000 and 2001, respectively at the Sydney Olympics and the Fukuoka FINA World Championships, Claire Carver-Dias simulated riding a bicycle in a routine meant to symbolise different sports. 10 years later, Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon is the new “bicycle girl”, after performing the same element in Shanghai. Thanks to this and many other spectacular figures, Canada got a thrilling bronze medal in the Free Combination event, in what was probably the most interesting final of the programme so far.

With one team to go, things looked pretty much the same as in previous days, with Russia comfortably first, China second, and Spain (2009 champion in this event), third. But then, the Canadians entered the water and definitely stole the show with a breathtaking performance in their pet event, finally obtaining a medal after a disappointing fourth place in all previous events. Performing on a medley of Queen, the energetic squad presented a brand-new routine, offering an astonishing array of lifts and throws, frequently punctuated by bursts of applause and wild cheering. Bronze medallists already in Rome (2009) and in Changshu last year, the Canadians leave the Shanghai Oriental Sport Centre with a renewed confidence tonight.

“What we really wanted to show the judges tonight is that we have our place on the podium,” said Synchro Canada head coach Julie Sauve. “In the prelims we were fourth and today we managed to move up to third place, a progression that happens very rarely,” she added.

Asked where she gets such inspiration, she says with a smile: “We dream!” Sauve also works with Canadian expert Luc Bellehumeur, who has trained Olympic champions in freestyle skiing and used to come two to three times a week to help them with the lifts.  

Talking about their medal chances for the rest of the competition, the Canadian coach has high hopes for the Team free: “This is the event for which we are best prepared.”

Delivering a fully mastered routine to the opera notes of the “Carmen Suite” by Shchedrin, Russia extended its unbeaten streak in synchronised swimming to fifth events, after winning the event with a total 98.470 and leaving little doubt that they are still the top team in the sport, no matter the routine they swim. Russian team member Anzhelika Timanina expressed her satisfaction: “We showed our best self tonight.”

This is the third title in the event for the Russians, who were already successful at the 2005 and 2007 editions of the World Championships (they skipped the event in 2003 and 2009). The European squad also swept the Free Combination gold at the FINA World Cup in Yokohama (2006) and in Changshu last year.

The host squad allowed herself another silver-medal finish, repeating her feat from Rome and last year’s World Cup. The Chinese walked us through their elegant routine, inspired by the story of “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland”, totalling an overall 96.390.

Team Russia - Credit: Giorgio Scala
Team Russia - Credit: Giorgio Scala

On her result, Chinese Liu Ou said: “I’m very satisfied with our performance tonight. Four members of our team are competing at their first World Championship and that they can get such good result is very good”. “We enhanced the degree of difficulty this year, mainly in the technical part of our routine, which is also demanding for our stamina. We still have much room for improvement,” the local hope continued.

Japanese head coach Masayo Imura does not hide her ambition for the Chinese team: “We made many changes in terms of difficulty in order to challenge the Russian team.”

“The atmosphere is terrific and the home crowd is giving us a lot of support,” teammate Yiwen Wu added.

Tonight’s biggest surprise was the fourth-place finish for the Spanish team, not far behind Canada, with a total 95.740. The Iberians presented a complex programme to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairways to Heaven”, the same routine that earned them the gold in Rome two years ago.    

“In Rome, the team was at its peak, with swimmers that had been swimming together for ten years,” explained Spanish head coach Anna Tarres. “For this new team, this routine is very challenging because it is a routine that demands maturity.” She admits that making them swim the same programme was a risky choice.

Ukraine, improved her sixth place from Rome to enter the top-5, ahead of the Italians, who dropped two spots from their 2009 classification.

Great Britain repeated their seventh place obtained at the Foro Italico. Team member Lauren Smith was very pleased with the performance this evening and so far: “We’ve got into every single final which we’ve not done before so it’s been really pleasing for us to feel positive moving towards to London 2012 next year.”

Japan, winner of the event in the first edition (2003) and USA (second in 2003, third in 2007) did not take part in the event.

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