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FINA Best Male Artistic Swimmer 2017: Aleksandr Maltsev (RUS)

Aleksandr, you are a lucky man! You have already successfully performed with two wonderful partners – Darina Valitova and Mikhaela Kalancha. Are they very much alike?

Darina and Mikhaela are like oil and vinegar. Darina is impulsive and hot-blooded. As for me, I’m calm and steady. As they say, opposites attract. So we made a good duet, notwithstanding the fact that we worked together only for half a year before Kazan 2015. At first we had some problems with synchronisation, but then we stuck together and it was very comfortable to perform with her. At the same time Darina wanted to do the team routine at the Rio Olympics, so she decided to focus on group training. That’s why I needed a new partner. Mikhaela is more quiet and even-tempered than I am. On the one hand it was easier to work with her, on the other – more complicated. I can say mostly I had to adapt myself to her and lead the dance. In the case of Darina it was a mutual process. I also had to control the situation in duet more carefully: to watch Mikhaela’s mistakes, to point out the inaccuracies, because she can be up in the clouds. Generally speaking, I was not only a partner, I was a mentor as well.


“Such a delicate situation can rock the boat”


Did the coaches take into account your opinion when choosing a partner for you?

Darina was appointed by the mixed duet coach, Gana Maksimova. She had already worked with me. She also helped Team Russia to prepare for the FINA Trophy, so she had an idea of the candidates for the mixed duet. At least visually. She voted for Darina Valitova. Everyone in the team felt comfortable with that choice. The next season there were several candidates, I tried to pair up with some synchro girls. Finally Mikhaela was nominated. My opinion was taken into account. But it was head coach Tatiana Pokrovskaya who affirmed the candidacy.


Is it true that you and Mikhaela had an affair?

Yes, it is. We had a romance last year when we were preparing for the European Championships. But now we are just friends.


Was it difficult to combine personal and professional life and then to get through a break-up?

I agree that such a delicate situation can rock the boat. There are so many examples in figure skating. But it depends on the people involved. If you have the same motivation and the shared sense of purpose, nothing can disturb your plans. You have to put all extra feelings and emotions aside and pursue your goal.


“Actually, nobody blamed us”


You had an improvisation mixed duet exhibition with Virginie Dedieu in the training pool in Budapest. How did it happen?

Virginie Dedieu was in Budapest as a coach of Team Spain. She just came to swim and we executed some elements on impulse. Not even experienced duets are able to perform such tricky elements. But we suited each other and did everything from the first attempt. Virginie was an outstanding soloist. She also took part in the mixed duet competition in Kazan. Her accomplishments earn her respect. I think this was one of the most unforgettable moments of Budapest for me.


And what about your performance? Did you feel satisfied?

Not a hundred per cent. Things did not come around as they were expected. And we had in view two gold medals – both in Kazan and Budapest. So we’ll keep working hard to fulfil our goals.


What does it mean for a Russian synchro swimmer to win silver? Is it estimated a defeat?

Actually, nobody blamed us. On the contrary, the coaches and fans tried their best to support and to encourage us. Besides, I don’t feel like it was a failure or a defeat. We showed a great performance. And I’m not alone in my conclusions.


“We can see a huge progress”


What can you say about the skill level of your rivals?

We can see a huge progress, comparing Kazan and Budapest. FINA made a resolution about the mixed duets just half a year before the World Championships in 2015. It was hard to achieve a high quality through this period. Some countries doubted their participation and made a final decision too late. They had very little time to train and to prepare good performances. It was like a trial tournament. But the situation changed in Budapest greatly. The number of participating duets increased and the skill level as well. I liked the Brazilian mixed duet. We got acquainted during our traditional training camp in Brazil and gave them a master class. I must say the programmes they executed at Worlds were very nice: with good choreography and personal style.


We could hardly imagine a few years ago that there would be mixed duet competitions at the World or European Championships. Do you believe you will have a chance to take part in the Olympic Games one day?

I hope so. They should include mixed duets in the Olympic programme. Synchronised swimming is no longer just a female sport. Still, we have two women’s events in the schedule. It’s a kind of gender discrimination. Of course, I understand the reason. Not so many countries are involved in the men’s or mixed competition. And we need to increase the level of the participants. At the same time the integration of mixed duet in the Olympic programme would give a boost to this discipline. Sports officials have to think in the long term.

FINA World Aquatics Gala “Soirée des Etoiles”

FINA Best Male Artistic Swimmer 2017: Giorgio Minisini (ITA)

A month had passed after their triumph in the technical routine in Budapest but Flamini had yet to believe that they had |really made it. “It’s as if we have been living in a dream,” she said in an interview. Giorgio, however, replied with a youngster’s realism: “I’ve already got used to being called on a daily basis by the press. My parents prepared me for that.” But he quickly added: “I was touched emotionally very much in the moments of triumph.”


“It’s a typical question we have to address”


The golden performance was based on a very special theme: the crisis on Lampedusa – the island where the migrants setting out from Africa could reach Italian soil in the shortest way. Thousands attempt it day by day – hundreds have lost their lives en route. “We wanted to be the first to show what problems Italy faces today,” Giorgio said in an interview with RAI (the Italian state television). “People usually don’t understand that, they don’t even care. But this is a painful trouble of our times, it’s a typical question we have to address, I think.” He said the theme was much more serious than usual in the sport, “and does not necessarily suit our age”. They chose music which reflected the journey and reaching the shore. “It also gave a glimpse of hope,” Giorgio said.

Since it was a brand-new routine, Minisini said they had started building the choreography from scratch. “But that also meant we had a firm base to bring the best out of ourselves.” He insisted that practising was ultimately entertaining for him, “even if there are a lot of physically really demanding elements, invented by our coaches, and I have to tell you that I cannot always execute them very well, not all the little details come together every time. I got really exhausted by the end of each session but I loved it.”

Flamini offered special thanks to her husband, while Giorgio came up with a surprising remark: “I should be grateful to a former girlfriend. Had she not been beside me at times I wouldn’t have achieved this result. I would have given up halfway. Even though life changes, you cannot forget the one who helped you when you really needed it.”


“Facts talked instead of me”


Well, we all know that at the elite level artistic swimming is a demanding sport. Just like the girls, Giorgio also trains six hours a day. He arrives at the pool at 7.30 in the morning and starts the daily training: “This is our life.”

And that was his life years before, when mixed duet as a world championship event was not even on the horizon. “We are few so far as no one loves practising a sport where he simply cannot take part in world champs. Though there were a few of us who made all those efforts. We were regarded a bit as crazy guys who spend loads of energy despite being denied participation in serious competitions.”

The usual topic – being a man in what was traditionally regarded as a women’s sport – doesn’t embarrass Giorgio. “First of all, there is a masculine part of this sport, I found it pretty quickly. I was proud to be part of a sport which demanded working a lot on the tiniest details. You are out of the water, in the water, under the water. It’s swimming, gymnastics, ballet at the same time. I’ll bet you won’t find any other sport which is so complex. Athletes of different sports have especially recognisable body shapes. A hammer-thrower, a sprinter, a distance-runner... Even in swimming you can distinguish the breaststroker from the backstroker, based on the shape of their upper body. But I have a fine average athlete shape as this sport really makes each and every muscle work. Our shape reflects on harmony.”

Minisini did three sports together before he entered high school: swimming, synchro and canoeing – and of course, we are in Italy, he got a taste for football: “You might think this a kind of primitive sport among the others at a basic level but it’s a team sport so at the end of the day it helped me a lot in synchro later.”

At the beginning, when he was a kid, his friends considered his choice of synchro a cool one. “They didn’t regard it as a feminine sport at all. I started to face prejudices in high school but after a while I didn’t care. Facts talked instead of me.”


“Why we can’t repeat that again?”


In a separate interview, Giorgio’s mother Susanna de Angelis talked briefly about her son. “He is doing this sport at a very high level and he really makes up for the shortage in this discipline. The presence of males is unusual but this sport really needs them. Just as in figure skating, they have to be here.”

And just as in figure skating, the Russians are really strong. But Giorgio’s mother hinted in the interview, which was recorded before the World Championships: “If we worked the same amount as they do, we would be the world champions.”

Well, the results show that Giorgio and his partners have begun to catch up. And he is targeting something similar next year. “If we managed to finish ahead of them once why we can’t repeat that again?” he concluded.

Then he put on his helmet and sat on his motorbike. “I drive with care. If you are stupid, you will fall,” he said before riding away.

An average Italian 21-year-old – who is in fact a cut above the rest.

FINA World Aquatics Gala “Soirée des Etoiles”

FINA Best Female High Diver 2017: Rhiannan Iffand (AUS)

Invited as a wild-card entry to join the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in 2016, Iffland won five of the seven legs of the competition to become the first rookie in history to win the overall title. This year she retained the overall crown after victories in Ireland, Italy, the United States and Chile. Iffland, who turned 26 in September, came close to winning the World Cup, claiming the silver medal with 312.80 points, less than four points behind Mexico’s Adriana Jimenez (316.45).

“The relationship between the athletes is like no other sport”


At the biggest event of the year, diving on the shore of the Danube River in the FINA World Championships in Budapest in July, Iffland gained sweet revenge and consigned Jimenez to silver. The most consistent athlete throughout the four dives of the competition, the Australian prevailed with 320.70 points, with Jimenez having to settle for silver on 308.90. Iffland and Jimenez were also the top contenders on the Red Bull circuit, with the Mexican diver again having to give best to the Australian.

The FINA award was indeed a fair tribute to Iffland’s outstanding season.


How important for you is this recognition – FINA Best Female High Diver of the Year?

It is a great honour to receive this award. Especially being the first Australian in high diving. I believe it’s a great opportunity to really show off high diving to Australia and show just how amazing the sport is.


How would you summarise your season?

It has been a long season and I’m very proud of my diving and my 2017 season. It’s been tough this year with injuries, so it’s time to wrap up the season, recover and recoup, and gather ideas for next year.


Besides your victory in Budapest, what is the strongest image you retain from the World Championships in Hungary?

It was a great display of sportsmanship and it was great to see the spirit of the championships, especially in all the athletes and people of the city. In the sport of high diving, the relationship between the athletes is like no other sport, all the athletes support each other, which is an incredible feeling and so nice to be a part of.

“There is really never a dull moment”

Do you follow other aquatic sports? Do you look forward to meeting FINA stars from the five other aquatic disciplines?

Yes. I enjoy all water sports. But, of course, coming from a diving background I’m still very passionate in following the diving. I also love water polo and I have always followed swimming. The atmosphere in the Aquatics Centre during the swimming at the World Championships sent shivers down my spine.


What are your plans for 2018?

To continue enjoying my sport and pushing myself to the limits.


What has changed in high diving since its inclusion in the FINA programme (in 2013)?

The sport has progressed dramatically since 2013, the level of competition has grown with the dives being much more difficult, and we are seeing the number of competitors increase, which will also push the sport further and further. I’m very excited to see this sport grow even more in years to come.


To whom would you dedicate this award?

My father Peter has been a big support in my whole sporting career.


Imagine I don’t know nothing about high diving. How would you describe this discipline and the feelings associated to it?

It’s a very impressive sport, to say the least. With the height of the platforms almost tripling the height of 10m diving, it’s quite a rush, even to watch. And as a spectator it’s interesting to see. The format is similar to diving and it’s nice to see athletes shine in different areas, some very graceful with simple dives and showing off lines and forms, and some performing 5 somersaults, or 3 somersaults with 4.5 twists. There is really never a dull moment, watching high diving.

FINA World Aquatics Gala “Soirée des Etoiles”

FINA Best Male High Diver 2017: Steve LoBue (USA)


At 43 and still competing, Colombia’s Duque is “the” reference in the sport, a model for all those still competing with him at the highest level. Hunt is known for pushing the boundaries of the difficulty of his dives and tried a very complex combination at the Budapest Worlds, which went wrong, plunging the Briton to fifth place. LoBue, by contrast, performed each of his four dives consistently.


“A bit of a roller coaster”


Winning in Budapest with a total of 397.15 points, Lo Bue is full of praise for this annual recognition from FINA. “For me, it’s the absolute pinnacle of success in our sport at the moment. To be considered the Best High Diver of the Year by FINA is an amazing accomplishment,” he says.

A New Jersey native but residing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, LoBue is married and the happy father of a baby girl. With a physique suited to gymnastics – 1.61m/5ft4ins; 62kg/137pounds – the world title was his first gold in a FINA competition after three podium presences at the FINA World Cup: silver in 2017 and bronze in 2014 and 2015. The four dives on his trajectory to the top step of the podium in Budapest (right in front of the beautiful Magyar Parliament) began with a DD-limited reverse 2 somersaults with 2 twists (70.00 points) and continued with a front 5 somersaults with ½ twist (114.75 points). The third combination was a successful inward 3 somersaults with ½ twist (99.00 points), followed by his grand finale inward 5 somersaults with ½ twist, worth 113.40 points. 

How would you describe your season?

I would say my overall season has been a bit of a roller coaster. My results weren’t as consistent as I would like, so the highs were high and when it rained it poured!

Besides your victory in Budapest, what is the strongest image you retain from the World Championships in Hungary?

Budapest is an amazingly beautiful city. I would say the strongest images in my mind are looking out from the 27-metre platform and soaking in the beautiful sights from a viewpoint that not many people get to experience.


Talent and passion

Do you follow other aquatic sports? Do you look forward to meeting FINA stars from the five other aquatic disciplines?

One of my favourite parts about World Championships is watching other athletes in action. It’s truly an honour to be among the best athletes in the world and surrounded by so much talent and passion.

What are your plans for 2018?

I’m very happy with my routine at the moment, so I don’t see any big changes coming up. I think the biggest thing I need to work on is consistency. I’m looking forward to training hard in the off-season to make sure I’m as prepared as possible for the 2018 season.


What has changed in high diving since its inclusion in the FINA programme?

The sport of high diving has progressed exponentially since its inclusion in 2013. We are seeing much more difficult dives and a much wider range of athletes that are capable of winning on any given day. It’s truly exciting to watch the sport grow as we continue to make a push for an Olympic bid.


Ultimate test

To whom would you dedicate this award?

First and foremost, this award would not be possible without the love and support of my beautiful wife Lindsay. Her support is monumental to my success in and out of the water. Also, to my parents who have been encouraging and supportive since the age of seven when I started diving. I also truly believe that behind every great athlete is a great team of coaches, strength trainers, sponsors, and team-mates without whom success would not be possible. Thank you to my Red Bull family and everyone else involved.


Imagine I know nothing about high diving. How would you describe this discipline and the feelings associated with it?

High diving is the ultimate test of mental strength and athletic ability. It’s a sport where athletes openly admit and display fear as they constantly battle the limitations of their own minds. Pure passion combined with excitement and an electric, dynamic environment make high diving a sport that only a select few in the world are capable of. 

FINA World Aquatics Gala “Soirée des Etoiles”