David Hulmes, FINA Press Correspondent in Japan

Japan dominated Saturday’s action at the FINA Synchronised Swimming World Series in Tokyo, taking mixed duet and free combination gold, and securing an overnight lead in the duet.

Yukiko Inui and Mai Nakamura head the duet standings at the halfway stage, ahead of Canada’s Jacqueline Simoneau and Karine Thomas.

The Japanese pair scored 90.4721 and go into Sunday’s free routine confident of claiming gold, given a healthy advantage of 2.1271. Inui bagged bronze in the Rio 2016 duet alongside Risako Mitsui.

Simoneau and Thomas, seventh at Rio 2016, collected 88.3450, while Evangelia Papazoglou and Evangelia Platanioti, of Greece, stand third on 85.6035. The Greek duo finished 10th in Rio.

“When we were in juniors we were paired once, but the more experience we gain and the more training we do, we no longer need to guess each other,” said Inui of her new partner, Nakamura.

“I think Mai is very skilled on the technical side and I really rely on that from her. Obviously we are aiming to go on and win tomorrow, but we want to do so with a really good performance.”

Nakamura added: “When it’s a duet you need to work on the speed and detailed movements, which was not much of an issue for the team event, so I really have to move more and work on the elements for these individual techniques.”

The duet free concludes Sunday’s action.

Inui and Nakamura also collected a gold medal as part of the triumphant Japan team in Saturday’s closing free combination, Inui topping up her solo silver from Friday.

The Japanese impressed the judges with 93.1667, a long way clear of silver medalists France on 84.8000, and third-placed Kazakhstan (82.7000).

“With every competition we do feel our scores are getting higher, but we know there are some things we have to correct and adjust, and we’ll keep working on those,” said Inui.

Japan’s strength in depth was highlighted by the fact club team Imura A outscored the French, with 85.4000.

The French routine, to a modern female cover version of Frank Sinatra’s I Love Paris, began and ended with the swimmers recreating the shape of the Eiffel Tower.

“We haven’t done the combo for four years and we have a lot of very young swimmers at their first big meet, so it was challenging,” said France team coach Julie Fabre.

“We decided to do a choreography on Paris, and tried a different way to swim the combo, with soft music. Synchro is really athletic and everyone swims fast, so we tried to do something different. It’s a new choreography, so the challenge was to see if the choreography was good. We have a lot of things to improve — technique, synchronisation and strength — but overall it was good.

“I haven't talked with the judges yet, but some scored very high and some low within the same criteria, so that means it’s not obvious enough. I expect more at the FINA World Championships this summer for sure.”

Japan’s Atsushi Abe and Yumi Adachi took gold in the mixed duet by virtue of being the only entrants. For the record, the pair netted 83.0235 in the technical routine and 85.3667 in the free, for a total of 168.3902.

Japan — bronze medalists at Rio 2016 — go into Sunday’s team free with a commanding lead after Friday’s technical routine, in which they scored 91.5684. Second-placed Mexico (85.5436) have clear water between themselves and Kazakhstan (78.6959), in third.

The Synchro Japan Open, which also features domestic title events, is the third stop on the seven-leg FINA Synchronised Swimming World Series.

The World Series bandwagon next moves on to Toronto, Canada, starting May 2. It then calls at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain, and Long Island, USA, before concluding in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent.