Helsinki 2014: Japan breaks Russia’s dominance in Combination final

Japan performing for gold in Comb - credit: Anne TuuliJapan broke Russia’s dominance sweeping all four gold medals three times consecutively at the FINA World Junior Synchronised Swimming Championships in Helsinki. The ten-member Japan team won the spectacular and lively free combination final, full of youthful joy, scoring 90.4 points as the last team out. The Russians, who had performed just before stayed on 90.3 points - the deciding margin a mere 0.1 points.

There were a lot of Japanese tears and laughs to be seen around the podium and a triumphal piece of collective joy as the girls grabbed head coach Risako Takita below the podium and threw her in the pool.


The Japanese could certainly figure out how the hitherto superior Russians felt. Japan had lost Saturday’s team event to the Russians by only 0.13 points.

Russia did however not go empty-handed on Sunday. 17-year old Anisiya Neborako was the favourite in the Solo in the morning, and she won the title - but it was a close call. Voices among experts thought that Jacqueline Simoneau of Canada, also 17, could have been the winner as well.

After two events with Russia, Japan and China as the medallists, in that order, Canada and Simoneau had a piece of the podium Sunday. The medals order was as follows: Russia (three gold and one silver), Japan (one gold, two silver and one bronze), China (three bronze), and Canada (one silver medal).

Japan let its soloist Asuka Tasaki rest, en led by its mental leader Kano Omata the combo team charmed the crowd with its artistic approach, which might have been just the small difference. Russia’s performance was a bit more clean in the moves, but this time the artistic picture got an edge.

The mental state of the Japanese girls were apparently good. 17-year old Minami Kono said after Saturday’s team event defeat that "we can be the champions tomorrow."


Japan performing for gold in Comb - credit: Anne Tuuli
Japan performing for gold in Comb - credit: Anne Tuuli

The Tokyo girl was right.

"This gives me the best, highest feeling ever. Now I will take a rest, a holiday and I will do it at home. But in the future I want to be even better, and I think that today’s experience will help with that," Kono said.

In the day’s first event, the Solo, Neborako, 17, took the gold with a margin of only 0.245 points, scoring a total of 171.135 points. Canada’s Jacqueline Simoneau was rated the better in the figures by 0.6 points but lost by 0.83 points in the free routine, and finished with 170.89 points. The two were the only athletes over 170 points as Japan’s Asuka Tasaki, 17, took the bronze with a 168.78-score, adding that to her two silver medals from the duet and team events.

"Neborako was technically good, and had some things with a lot of originality in a series of leg moves, but with the head up there was not too much happening when she swam. Simoneau showed a greater closeness with the music, and offered more to the spectators, and she also had eye contact with the judges," Finnish expert and judge Ulla Lucenius said.

17-year-old Anisiya Neborako is one of five children and comes from Moscow where she also practices with Oxana Burynuk as a personal coach.

"The competition was very hard, I was a little nervous before, but just a little. I had done training, and a little competition now and then."

In fact, a few good performances abroad were enough to make her a strong contender for the gold here, in the Makelanrinne Swimming Center.


Solo podium with Jacqueline Simoneau (CAN), Anisiya Neborako (RUS) and Asuka Tasaki (JPN) - credit: Kari Pajunen
Solo podium with Jacqueline Simoneau (CAN), Anisiya Neborako (RUS) and Asuka Tasaki (JPN) - credit: Kari Pajunen

"Anisiya is the leader in our junior team, but after this she will be moved up to our senior A-team, and we hope she can continue like this," Russian head coach Natalia Mendygalieva said.

Berta Ferreras of Spain, Anna-Maria Alexandri of Austria, very well performing in tune with her music - Janis Joplin’s Summertime - and Anastasiya Savchuk of Ukraine each felt a scent of gold, each leading after their programmes. They were starting second, fourth and eighth among the twelve finalists. With Neborako, Simoneau, and Japan’s Asuka Tasaki coming next, the podium quickly got its final line-up.

Canada’s hope Simoneau, 17, a bronze medallist last time out, 2012 in Greece, now had to be content with the silver, but still seemed in good spirit.

"I am pretty happy and quite proud of my swim. My coach prepared me, and I prepared so long for this competition," she said.

"With this I hope to help bringing Canada to another level, especially now that I will compete among the seniors. That will bring my own level a bit higher and the team a couple of positions higher. People will know us more, and yes, - I hope to make the Olympic team in two years," Simoneau said.

Jacqueline has all she needs just around the corner from home.

"Our family live in Montreal, and the training center is located there. And I was so  happy that my Mom and Dad were here to see me competing," the Canadian silver medallist said in Helsinki, where athletes from 34 nations have encountered unusually warm weather outside the arena, 27 to 30 centigrades.


Jacqueline Simoneau from Canada during her solo final performance - credit: Kari Pajunen
Jacqueline Simoneau from Canada during her solo final performance - credit: Kari Pajunen