Aimee Berg, FINA Press Correspondent in the US

(EAST MEADOW, N.Y.) – Three gold medals were awarded on Saturday at the conclusion of the FINA Synchro America Open in New York, as free programs were contested in solo, mixed duet, and duet. Ona Carbonell of Spain earned two golds (in solo and in duet with Paula Ramirez), Jacqueline Simoneau of Canada claimed two silvers (in solo and in duet with Claudia Holzner), and Bill May and Kanako Spendlove of the U.S. led the mixed duet competition from start to finish for gold.

SOLO RECAP:

In the solo free program, the first- and second-place programs earned more than 90 points each and both were designed by the three-time Olympian Virginie Dedieu of France. Carbonell, the 26-year-old winner, elegantly conveyed the beating of one’s heart during various stages of a relationship to an Ute Lemper version of Edith Piaf’s “Padam Padam.”

Simoneau, the runner-up, had made several changes to her free routine after recently reuniting with her old coach, Johana Vasquez. The aim was to accentuate her greatest strengths: height and spinning. And she felt that Saturday’s swim was a breakthrough.

“This is the first time in about five years that I can say I really truly-truly enjoyed my performance, said Simoneau, 20, even though she appeared to be all smiles all week. “I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs since I made the senior national team five years ago. In overcoming these challenges, I’ve been able to learn a lot and become a better athlete.”

The year 2015, Simoneau said, was particularly rough as she found herself in a Brazilian hospital with a bleeding stomach ulcer and nearly missed the Olympic qualifications. Now feeling “much better,” she said, “my hemoglobin levels are normal, so I’m finally becoming more and more of myself when I swim.”

Michelle Zimmer, 20, of Germany claimed the solo bronze medal after Anita Alvarez of the U.S. chose not to swim the free portion. (Alvarez had ranked third in the technical program.)

Jacqueline Simoneau (CAN) earns solo silver - Photo by Liz Corman

MIXED DUET RECAP:

Bill May, 38, and Kanako Spendlove, 35, won the mixed duet gold in their first international competition of the year. Their free program portrayed Medusa and Perseus which meant that in the beginning, Spendlove (as Medusa) tries to kill May (Perseus) but he slays her in the end.

The judges rewarded their routine with 90.1000 points, but the Americans knew they had more work to do to prepare for the FINA World Championships which begins in 20 days. All their fine-tuning, however, must be done when they’re not working at their other full-time job: Cirque du Soleil’s “O” show in Las Vegas (where they will be perform on Sunday, just hours after landing from New York).

Despite Saturday’s victory, May said the program “is definitely not,” where they want it to be yet. “I mean, it’s a progression. We’re in a good place to improve from here. It was a good test run to put in front of the judges…[and] a good opportunity out the gate to run like a bull and hit it hard. I just think [we need to work on] the clarity of movement, and making our connections between each other more tight, more effortless, more fluid, more seamless.”

Canada’s Robert Prevost, 37, and Isabelle Blanchet-Rampling picked up a silver medal, on Blanchet-Rampling’s 31st birthday, with an unconventional free routine that represented a confrontation between a man and woman as opposites. After clinching the silver medal, she said, “It felt like a very special day to begin with. It’s been a lot of fun so far.”

The Canadians’ music, “Song of the Stars,” was by Dead Can Dance. Their partnership began in January and they are sponsored by the city of Montreal.

Germany’s Niklas Stoepel, 25, and Amelie Ebert, 22, claimed the bronze.

DUET RECAP:

After the free portion of the duet competition, the standings remained the same as they did after Friday’s tech routine.

Carbonell picked up her second gold medal of the day by reprising her 2016 Olympic free program with a new partner, 21-year-old Paula Ramirez (instead of Gemma Mengual with whom she placed fourth in Rio). The theme was Spanish culture – including a bit of flamenco – and was performed to a well-known classical Spanish song.

Their coach Esther Jauma told FINA earlier in the week said she was proud of Ramirez for so quickly raising her level to match Carbonell, a two-time Olympic medalist.  Ramirez only started memorizing their free routine last winter. After winning gold, Ramirez said the key to their rapid chemistry in the water “is that Ona is very easy. She always helps me. She gives me little tricks like, ‘Here try to swim faster. Here try to go up, or down.’ She has been like a sister for me.”

Immediately after the Spanish duet performed, Simoneau collected her second silver of the day with a busy, precise, and entertaining free swim with Claudia Holzner.

Anita Alvarez and Victoria Woroniecki of the U.S. earned the bronze medal after an intense and moving free program to a song appropriately called “Fury,” by Brand X Music. It was the same program that Alvarez, 20, used at the Rio Olympics – only this time, with 16-year-old Woroniecki.

Alvarez said afterward that she felt the best part of Saturday’s duet with Woroniecki was, “the connection between both of us. We were both really focused, swimming together and not too separate.”

Duet medalists (L-R) USA bronze, ESP gold, CAN silver

FINAL STANDINGS:
Solo: 1. Ona Carbonell (ESP, 182.8424), 2. Jacqueline Simoneau (CAN, 178.2041), 3. Michelle Zimmer (GER, 155.5901)
Mixed Duet: 1. Bill May and Kanako Spendlove (USA, 176.4349), 2. Robert Prevost and Isabelle Blanchet-Rampling (CAN, 162.4065), 3. Niklas Stoepel and Amelie Ebert (GER, 145.4847)
Duet: 1. Ona Carbonell and Paula Ramirez (ESP, 180.8160), 2. Jacqueline Simoneau and Claudia Holzner (CAN, 175.0678), 3. Anita Alvarez and Victoria Woroniecki (USA, 168.3435)
Team: 1. USA (166.2664), 2. Canada (163.2074), 3. Argentina (153.3469)