Aimee Berg, FINA Press Correspondent in Canada

(SURREY, British Columbia) – Ukraine was extremely sharp in the combination and team free finals on Friday night in Canada – as was Japan’s brand new partnership of Yukiko Inui and Megumu Yoshida in the technical duet. All won gold on Day 2 of the Surrey World Series.

Ukraine’s victory in the team free also gave it a clean sweep of gold medals in the team events while Japan was the runner-up both times.

Ukraine wins team free. Photo (c) Anna Davydova

TEAM FREE

Less than 24 hours after claiming silver in the team technical event, Japan opened the night hoping to take gold in the free event with the happiness-themed routine that had immediately struck gold in its debut at the Tokyo Open earlier this season.  On Friday, however, it earned 92.3667 points and coach Masayo Imura knew right away that Japan had just left the door open for Ukraine to sweep both team medals in Surrey.

“Today the highlights, the lifts were not so good,” Imura explained. “But they’re young swimmers in the first stage of international competition. There’s a very good chance for [others] to improve.”

Canada was next, and while the international debut of its climbing-themed program featured innovative legwork and holds, and its 87.6333 score didn’t give it a clear lock on silver because three nations remained: France, the United States and Ukraine.

“It was a bit of a shaky performance for us,” said Claudia Holzner, Canada’s team captain. “We could have delivered something more special. We have amazing highlights and a lot of them didn’t work today. I don’t think we were fully in the moment together at the same time. It’s tough to get back to that great swim once one thing fails.”

Ukraine swam last, clearly hungry to win its third gold medal in team free in the 2018 FINA World Series. It opened its routine with an incredibly high opening throw, the choreography was innovative, it created myriad optical illusions, and the lifts were dynamic and precise. As a result, it beat Japan for gold by nearly a full point, leaving Canada with the bronze.

Afterwards, 21-year-old Valeriia Aprielieva thought the Kharkiv-based squad could perform it even better. But Ukraine’s coach and choreographer Svitlana Saidova was delighted.

“I feel really proud of the performance, VERY proud,” Saidova said, “because it’s a very young team. They work very, very hard. They know what they want and they fight to get it.” The best part of the performance on Friday, she said, was “their mood, and how they presented themselves. It’s very important for me as a coach that my swimmers don’t have fear to perform.”

Inui and new duet tech partner Yoshida win gold. Photo (c) Anna Davydova

DUET TECHNICAL

In the technical duet event, none of the twins from Austria, Ukraine, or France finished in the top-3.

But two-time Olympian Yukiko Inui, 27, and Megumu Yoshida, 22, didn’t need matching DNA to look identical in their Ninja-themed program. The new Japanese duet won gold and their coach, Masayo Imura, was beaming.  

Imura rarely heaps praise on athletes immediately after performances but on Friday she was quick to say of the new pair, “This was a good team. I was just [testing] it [as a partnership]. [Their first competition together] was very good today. They kept the energy up. It’s a good, good, GOOD team.”  

Ukraine’s Anastasiya Savchuk and Yelyzaveta Yakhno earned the silver medal with an intense performance to Beethoven’s Sonata No. 5.

Yakhno is contesting eight of the nine events in Surrey – in a compressed schedule with very little time to recover. Asked whether she was tired (en route to her third event of the night) she said emphatically, “No! No! We are very strong.”  The teenaged Yakhno turns 20 on Monday.

Canada’s Claudia Holzner and Jacqueline Simoneau claimed technical duet bronze for the host nation with their hands-themed routine.

“Claudia and I have been swimming together for 10 years on the national team, but never as a duet [until 2017],” Simoneau said, “so we have really good synchronization and energy level.  We perform the same way. It really helps us tremendously.”

FREE COMBINATION

Ukraine closed Day 2 with a spectacular gold-medal combination performance to “Beauty and the Beast,” the same one it used to win the silver medal at the 2017 World Championships.

“For me, the hardest is in the middle because, in our combo, all 10 people are working very hard,” said Maryna Aleksiiva, 17. “We don’t relax when someone is doing duet or solo.”

Ukraine’s combination also featured an innovative, jaw-dropping moment when Alina Shynkarenko was lifted high out of the water and resting on one set of swimmers, then was tossed horizontally to another set of swimmers in a perfect plank. “She’s the shortest girl on the team,” Aleksiiva said of “the jumper.”

The US team took silver with a combination so fresh that seven of its 10 swimmers were 16 or younger. (In contrast, only one of Ukraine’s athletes was 16 or younger.)  The idea is to prepare its high-energy routine for the junior world championships in Budapest this July.

“It’s really exciting because we all get to swim together, people in the duet, the alternates – we all just have a sense of team,” said 17-year-old Grace Alwan of the US, as to why she enjoys the combination. “We’re definitely going to work on our highlights, our lifts, and even more energy for junior worlds. That’s why we’re going to these senior competitions; it’s such great competition and exposure.”

Results:

Team free
1.    Ukraine (UKR)  93.2000
2.    Japan (JPN)  92.3667
3.    Canada (CAN) 87.6333

Duet technical
1.    Yukiko Inui and Megumu Yoshida (JPN)  91.5126
2.    Anastasiya Savchuk and Yelyzaveta Yakhno (UKR) 90.9190
3.    Claudia Holzner and Jacqueline Simoneau (CAN)  88.6506

Free combination
1.    Ukraine (UKR) 92.9000
2.    United States (USA) 84.5333

Japan silver in team free. Photo (c) Anna Davydova