Aimee Berg, FINA Press Correspondent in Canada

(SURREY, British Columbia) – Opening night of the FINA World Series stop in Surrey, Canada, featured a trio of technical routines. In the end, the favorites reigned supreme.

In the solo technical event, two-time Olympian Yukiko Inui of Japan captured her second gold of the season for her exquisite two-minute “Miracle Star” program, followed by Yelyzaveta Yakhno of the Ukraine. Jacqueline Simoneau of Canada claimed the bronze – just .2515 points out of a tie for second place. All three women returned to the pool later to perform in the team technical event.

Next came the mixed duet technical event where the lone entry was Lee Gabin and Byun Jaejun, a pair of 15-year-olds from South Korea. And because it was Byun’s first artistic swimming competition of his life, he will head to the World Series event in Los Angeles next week with an unbeaten record.  

Opening night closed with the team technical event where Ukraine topped Japan for gold by earning the highest marks for execution and impression. Canada placed third.

For details and reactions, read on.

Yukiko Inui wins solo tech. Photo (c) Anna Davydova

SOLO TECHNICAL

In the solo technical event, Inui said she swam “quite calmly and was not nervous” en route to the gold medal. She thought her winning score of 91.1170 might have been a personal best for solo technical, but a dip into the archives revealed that Inui scored .632 points higher for the same routine when she placed fourth at the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest.  

Yakhno, the 19-year-old silver medalist swam “My Sins” by Tina Karol.

“I liked my performance,” Yakhno said afterward. “I was ready for this and I knew everything would be okay.”  Yakhno’s silver was her third solo technical medal of the 2018 World Series, matching her silver medal from Budapest.

Bronze medalist Jacqueline Simoneau performed to Lorde’s version of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” from the “Hunger Games” soundtrack.  The confidence and control she projected in her deck work sent Canadian fans into an enthusiastic and anticipatory frenzy. Although Simoneau developed the program in January 2018, it was the first time she performed it in competition.

“I love this routine,” Simoneau said after its debut. “It’s one of the first solo routines where all the original choreography is from me. It’s my style” – a style that she described as “powerful and dynamic” that had “a sense of maturity to it and a certain flavor – a Canadian flavor.”

Lee (left) and Byun win debut. Photo (c) Anna Davydova

MIXED DUET TECHNICAL

Since the gold medalists, Lee and Byun, had only been training together since March 2018, it was the first time the judges had seen their warrior-themed program.

It was also the first time they had ever seen Byun compete.

“I thought it was going to be hard; I was nervous,” Byun said about earning his first scores in the sport.

But after receiving their gold-medal total (70.4526), he said, “I’m proud.”

Next week, Lee and Byun will compete in Los Angeles, the only other World Series stop on their 2018 schedule. After that, it’s back to their training base in Seongnam, which is 225 km north of the 2019 FINA World Championship host city of Gwangju.

Their coach Jennifer Song, who represented Canada at the 2008 Olympics, accompanied them to Surrey. Song said Lee’s assets include “a strong core, good balance, and great flexibility” from her gymnastics days, while Byun blends the talents of both of his parents. His mother was on the Korean national synchro team and his father, Byun Jinsup, is a famous singer known for his ballads. “Byun likes being on stage,” Song said. “He also has really good flexibility for a man and nice extension.”  

Ukraine tops Japan in Team Tech. Photo (c) Anny Davydova

TEAM TECHNICAL

In the team technical event, Ukraine captured its first gold of the 2018 FINA World Series to go with its collection of two silver and one bronze. Their program, to the soundtrack of “Baron Munchausen” had a battle theme. Afterwards, Vladyslava Aleksiiva, who turned 17 two days earlier and was competing alongside her twin sister said, “I think now we can make better elements. Our team is strong.”

Although Japan did, in fact, out-score Ukraine in the elements portion (which is worth 40 percent of the score), Japan’s head coach Masayo Imura called its performance “not so good,” citing problems with “twist speed and a few swimmers travelling too much, but this team is very young.”  It was also a new program this year, in which the women portray the fairytale bird “Ohtori” shooting flames through the cherry blossoms.

Canada earned bronze with its international debut of routine set to the pulsating beat of “Less Talk More Art.”

“We are extremely happy,” Canadian team captain Claudia Holzner said of third place, “especially since this year, the team was not centralized like it had been in years past.” Instead, national team athletes have been training primarily with their local clubs, and convening for training camps like their recent one-month stay in Calgary.  

“We’ve been working incredibly hard to build confidence,” Holzner said. “We’ve had to build an entire family in a short time and I think we’ve done a good job.”

Results

Solo technical
1.    Yukiko Inui (JPN)  91.1170
2.    Yelyzaveta Yakhno (UKR) 89.6622
3.    Jacqueline Simoneau (CAN) 89.4107

Mixed duet technical
1.    Lee Gabin and Byun Jaejun (KOR)  70.4526

Team technical
1.    Ukraine  (UKR) 90.7305
2.    Japan (JPN)  90.3419
3.    Canada (CAN) 86.5904