Montreal 2009, Day 2: Russia wins solo but Canada remains in the lead

The host federation returned to Montreal's Olympic Park Sports Center, the venue of the 1976 Olympic Games, at the top of the scoring tables following the first evening of competition at the 4th FINA Synchronised Swimming World Trophy. Saturday night is "Hockey Night in Canada" but ironically this evening's performances did not include any references or elements drawn from Canada's national pastime. Hockey jerseys, sticks, pucks and the NHL buzzer were the signature accessories  in Friday evening's winning performances by the duet and team squads from Canada. The Canadian squad swam to first place in last night's Highlights and Thematic Routines and leads in the scoring for the FINA Trophy after just two events.

Tonight the venue sound system blared the Black Eyed Peas hit song "A Good Night" featuring these lively lyrics:  "I have a feeling, I have a feeling that tonight is going to be a good night, a good, good night" perhaps giving even further inspiration to the Canadian team. Tonight the Canadians would face a stiff challenge from a Russian World Champion and the 2008 Olympic Gold Medallists in this evening's Free Solo and Thematic Team routines.

FREE SOLO (Day Two)

The beauty of this 2 minute routine can be seen in the changes of rhythm and in the exquisite interpretation of the swimmer to the accompanying music. Of the 10 soloists in this programme, only three including the FINA World Champion Natalia Ishchenko (RUS) swam in the Solo events in Rome and also here in Montreal. Jenna Randall (GBR) and Giovanna Stephan (BRA) also competed in Rome and swam the Free Solo routine in this session. Randall (GBR) swam to the music of Jeff Beck's stirring rendition of 'Hallelujah' and was the early leader notching a 93.000 as a reward in part for her lengthy and innovative performance on the deck. She was soon bettered by Andrea Fuentes (ESP) who was awarded 97.000 points for her aquatic artistry.

Once FINA World Champion Natalia Ischenko (RUS) entered the water the audience knew what is was to see perfection in the pool. In fact two of the judges agreed that they were witnessing perfection by awarding 10.0's. The three other judges, not quite convinced rendered only 9.9's for a final score of 99.333 - surely a standard that would be challenging if not impossible to better for the remaining competitors. The Russian champion's performance was indeed a hard act to follow but Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon (CAN) brought life to the lyrics of "Feeling Good' by Muse. Boudreau-Gagnon swam with intensity and expressed herself through the music. She also captivated the crowd by her strength, height, rotations and many rhythm changes but her performance was not strong enough to beat the Russian champion. “I'm very happy”, said Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon after earning a score of 97.333 for second place. “It was the first time I performed this routine and I see this as another step towards a silver medal at the 2011 FINA World Championships.” Andrea Fuentes (ESP) earned third place.

Sylvie Fréchette, Canada's Olympic Gold and Silver medalist observed that the "height and the power of the Russian, Canadian and Spanish athletes distinguished them from their peers" and was the likely reason that tonight's performances were so evenly matched. Frechette added that the "height and the charisma of Ishchenko's performance was the reason she earned those very high marks from the judges. Ishchenko is the World Champion and she exudes that confidence in her performance, it is noticeable and it is an asset".

Following the Free Solo routine the Russian and Canadian teams were tied in scoring for the FINA Trophy. The teams from Spain, China and Japan followed in 3rd, 4th and 5th places after the first event.

THEMATIC TEAM ROUTINE

The Thematic Team routine permits the use of accessories, an element that is unique to the FINA Trophy competition. In three minutes time 8 swimmers from each of the 10 teams performed 36 patterns and 8 highlights guaranteeing extremely fast, lively and dynamic performances. The theme of tonight's routines is "America and the Western Conquest", a nod to North American imagery of the American West. This is the first edition of the FINA World Trophy in North America.

A sampling of outrageous swimwear and accessories included the multi-colored "helmet with fin" British team who wore a bright pink legging to complement their rousing performance. All 8 USA team members entered the deck dressed as Michael Jackson look-a-likes complete with black business suits and the stylish hat MJ made famous. A medley of Jackson's greatest hits including "Thriller" and  "I'm Bad" inspired the American's performance.  

The team from Canadian emerged on the deck divided into Cowboys and Indians in an America-themed routine. They were fueled by an enthusiastic audience and aided by the sounds of gunfire and tom-tom drums. Bows and arrows were released, horses were "lassoed" and cattle were "rassled" in an exciting performance with multiple activities of life in the American West. Amazingly a canoe paddle emerged as 7 team members created the canoe and supported the "paddler" on her journey downriver.  

Canadian Team head coach Denise Sauvé cheered on her squad poolside wearing an Indian headdress as Jo-Annie Fortin, Sandy Gill, Chloé Isaac, Emilia Kopcik, Ève Lamoureux, Karine Thomas, Valérie Welsh and Erin Wilson earned two perfect marks of 10 and three 9.9 for a total of 99.333 points. The Canadian squad finished ahead of Russia (98.333 points) and Spain (97.667 points). Spain was the only other team to earn a 10. "It’s rewarding to get perfect marks", said Canadian Team captain, Ève Lamoureux. "The other teams are pushing us to work harder, especially for the 2012 Olympic Games", added her teammate Chloé Isaac.

"Tonight we used the concept elements and the accessories in every part so routine would fully incorporate the thematic of the American West including the Cowboy and the Native Americans said Canadian Team head coach Denise Sauvé. "This theme presents very well because it is a part of our history and our culture and we exploited it easily. We built the routine so it included a variety of technical and artistic elements using very small formations but also spectacular highlights that were each tied to the theme. We researched all of the movements to be sure they were tied to the thematic of the Old West."

Sauvé continued: "For me this is another high point in my career. It been 12 years since we swam ahead of the Russians, last at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. This is also Canada's first 10's in the competition since Sylvie Fréchette earned her Gold Medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games."

"Last night I had to pinch myself when the Canadian team achieved our first 9.9's during my coaching career, but today is even more exciting as we achieved not only three more 9.9's, but also two 10.0's."

"How exciting it is to have our dreams come true," said the Canadian head coach.  Her prediction for the final day of the FINA Trophy: "Watch out for tomorrow!"

Remaining Programme of the FINA Trophy

The Combo team routine and the closing show will be presented tomorrow, Sunday, at the 4th FINA Synchronised Swimming World Trophy. The fans will have the opportunity to see the combo routine for which the Canadian team won the bronze at the 2009 FINA World Championships last summer in Rome. This routine is very colourful with original costumes, moves and patterns; this is the longest of the competition’s routines and is based on the street dance.

To celebrate the end of the 3-day competition, Synchro Canada will present a closing show directed by Sylvie Fréchette, Olympic gold medalist who choreographed the synchronized swimming routines for the Cirque du Soleil’s ’’O’’, a show where water, fire and percussions come together.