Two events were scheduled for the final evening of the Artistic Swimming discipline at the 18th FINA World Championships in Gwangju, Korea, the Mixed Free Duet and the Free Combo. It is the third time that the Mixed Free Duet event is contested at a World Championship, and the Mixed Duet events are slowly gaining popularity. Both Australia, represented by Ethan Calleja and Danielle Kettlewell and Uzbekistan, represented by Dinara Ibragimova and Vyacheslav Rudney, competed for the first time in the Mixed events in Gwangju. The technical competence of the Mixed Duets is also slowly improving. In the 2015 Kazan World Championships, Russia’s Aleksandr Maltsev paired with Darina Valitova and won the gold medal with 91.733. Two years later, in Budapest, Maltsev paired with Mikhaela Kalancha scored 92.6000 to win the gold medal. Today, Maltsev paired with Mayya Gurbanberdieva, scored 92.9667 to claim the top of the podium. In the preliminary round, Maltsev and Gurbanberdieva’s routine received 93.1000 for their performance of the routine themed “Sing, Sing, Sing”. Depicting a Russian subculture from the 1960’s labeled “fashionistas”, the pair wore neon colored, old fashioned styled bathing suits, while performing this feel-good routine swum to jazzy music by Benny Goodman. 

Italy’s Giorgio Minisini, paired with Mariangela Perrupato, won a bronze medal in Kazan and a silver medal in Budapest. In Gwangju, Minisini’s duet partner is Manila Flamini, with whom he won the silver medal in the Technical Mixed Duet event. Swimming their routine “Angels and Demons”, Manila, in a silver and white suit, looked like an angel, while Giorgio, wearing a black and red suit, represented the demons. The choreography nicely used the metaphor between good and evil, sometimes opposites, sometimes intertwined and inseparable. With 91.8333 points, Flamini and Minisini earned their second silver World Championship medal, Italy’s third medal in Gwangju. 

Aleksandr Maltsev and Mayya Gurbanberdieva (RUS) - Photo by gettyimages

Japan’s Atsushi Abe and Yumi Adachi, were in search of their second medal at the 2019 Gwangju World Championships, after winning the bronze medal in the Mixed Technical Duet. Swimming their routine “Jungle” to music filled with animal sounds, the Japanese improved their preliminary score, from an 89.8000 to a 90.4000, an important threshold in Artistic Swimming. For this accomplishment, Abe and Adachi were awarded the bronze medal, just ahead of USA’s Bill May and Natalia Vega. Bill May, a pioneer for the male competitors in Artistic Swimming, is the oldest athlete competing in Gwangju. May started Artistic Swimming when he was 10 years old and his goal was to be able to compete in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. Upon the decision that men were not allowed to compete in the artistic swimming programme, Bill May retired from the sport, only to return in 2014 when the Mixed Duets became part of the Artistic Swimming events. At the 2015 Kazan World Championships, May won the first gold medal awarded to a male in Artistic Swimming for the Mixed Technical event. May has been on the podium for the Mixed Free event in both Kazan and Budapest, however, today in Gwangju, with duet partner Vega, the performance received a score of 88.3000, which was not enough for the podium. 

Giorgio Minisini and Manila Flamini (ITA) - Photo by gettyimages

Free Combination

The final event of the Championships in Gwangju was the Free Combination event. The Free Combination, or simply called “Combo”, is swum by eight to ten swimmers, and each routine is a combination of all the other events: solos, duets, trios, and team segments. Combo routines often have specific themes and tell stories, and in Gwangju the spectators were treated to exciting routines with a wide variety of themes.  “Snowhite and the Huntsmen” (Thailand), the “Avengers” (Brazil), “Junglebook” (Korea), “Game of Chess” (Greece), “Guns & Roses Rock concert” (Slovakia) and “Dolphins” (Italy) were a few of the themes that stood out. 

China won the gold medal at the 2017 World Championships; however, the Russians did not participate in the Combo event in Budapest. In the preliminary round, due to a penalty Russia received for being over the 4:00 minutes time limit, the difference between their score and the score for the Chinese team was 0.5000 points. The Russian Combo swimmers depicted warriors and concubines in their routine which was based upon the Russian Opera “Knyaz (prince) Igor”. Having cut enough time from their preliminary routine, the Russians were within the allowed time, and claimed their ninth gold medal at the 2019 World Championships with 98.0000 points.

China’s “Master and Commander” theme told the story of Poseidon, God of the Sea, who inspired them to brave rough seas and to battle upcoming challenges until the everything calms down. Using explosive movements in the beginning, then changing to soft fluid patterns, the choreography matched the music and the story perfectly. The Chinese earned 96.5667 points for the silver medal, their fifth medal in Gwangju.

The medallists in the Free Combination event - Photo by gettyimages

Ukraine’s routine invited the spectators to look through the window of their “Magic Castle”. The music was playful, mesmerizing, and gave the illusion of magic. The Ukrainian swimmers moved through the routine smooth and easy, making the difficult movements seem like playtime. The routine received 94.5333 points and Ukraine’s sixth medal, a bronze.

In their routine themed “Mermaid”, the Japanese Team looked the part with bathing suits that were identical in the front, but the backside of each one of the swimmers was in a different color representing all the colors of a mermaid’s tail. Swam to music composed by Thomas Bergersen, the swimmers’ feet and toes, in many of the leg sequences were not in the traditional “point” but turn outward to resemble the tail of a mermaid. The Japanese received points 93.2333 to finish in fourth place.

In Gwangju, the Russian artistic swimmers demonstrated their exceptional level of Artistic Swimming by winning nine of the 10 events, and the Team Trophy. In the all-time World Championship medal count Russia leads overwhelmingly with 60 gold and five silver medals.

Following the competitive portion and awards ceremonies, lights were dimmed, the coloured spotlights came on and the feeling in the Yeomju Gymnasium changed as athletes, coaches, judges and FINA Technical Artistic Swimming Committee members unified to celebrate Artistic Swimming in the Gala event. The presentations varied from dance numbers to routines in the water using props that cannot be used during competition. Host Korea started of the Gala with a large group of novice artistic swimmers, possibly future elite athletes, together with the National team. Memorable was the dance number to Abba’s “Dancing Queen” by the judges and Technical Artistic Swimming Committee members, who worked tirelessly and were finally able to show that they also know how to perform. Theirs was the only performance that was scored, receiving a perfect 100 from the crowd. The gala allowed creativity of the teams, which resulted in a fun relaxed closing of the successful 18th FINA World Championships’ artistic swimming events.  


Aleksandr Maltsev (RUS), gold, mixed duet:

“Finally we got two gold medals. It’s not only about the result, it’s about confidence that we can fight for the podium and at the same time show great performances which can fascinate the audience and the judges.”

“It was difficult to swim in the prelims because we felt a bit tired. We tried to show our best, to improve all small errors in the final. Our coach Gana Maksimova was satisfied with our winning performance. So were we. That’s why the lower scores in prelims surprised us”.

“We were thinking about changing this routine after the Super Final of the World Series. But we didn’t have too much time for practice. This was the reason why we decided to keep it for the championships.” 

Maya Gurbanberdieva (RUS), gold, mixed duet:

“Aleksandr did this programme with his previous partner Mikhaela Kalancha. But I also had time to get used to it. We performed it at the European Championships in Glasgow last year and took part in five legs of the World Series this season”. 

Manila Flamini (ITA), silver, mixed duet:

“Our aim is to remain in the heart of the public. We are happy with our technical routine. Even on the FINA page in Instagram it is the most viewed video. I think that’s the sign that people like that routine. We are happy for that. With the free programme we just wanted to do the same”.  

Giorgio Minisini (ITA), silver, mixed duet:

“We performed this routine 15 times at different competitions before that. And we changed it 14 times. Every competition we ask the judges what we can improve and every competition we change something. We are very confident with the free routine. We enjoy it”.

On the newcomers: “I know those guys from Australia and Uzbekistan who made their World Championships debut here in Gwangju. I’m very happy they are here. I’m very thankful to them. The more people we have the better is for sport. They are doing the big part of the project. Every time I talk to them I feel the emotions, the passion they have. When you fight for the medals you can forget the amazingness of being here at the World championships that four years ago didn’t exist”.

Yumi Adachi (JPN), bronze, mixed duet:

“We tried to get 90 points this season. Finally, we’ve got these scores. And we took the podium, twice. We are so happy with the result”.

“Actually we overcame Bill May who finished fourth. It’s incredible. We had to beat him if we wanted to have a medal. We know he is a legend. But we are, let’s say, the new generation”.

Vyacheslav Rudnev, Dinara Ibragimova (UZB), first appearance in mixed duet at World Championships:

Dinara on the story of their duet: “It’s a historic moment for our country. We are the first mixed duet that took a dare. My partner is a former swimmer and started artistic swimming three years ago. I hope we can grow and move forward”.  

Vyacheslav on his mind-set: “I couldn’t fell asleep the day before our first performance. You know I was running the programme in my head. In the morning, I decided that I will go through this challenge. And I did”. 

Ethan Calleja, Danielle Kettlewell (AUS), first appearance in mixed duet at World Championships:

Ethan on being up for the challenge: “Pretty excited. It has been a long journey for us to get at this point. It’s amazing. I’m very proud of us.” 

Danielle on their potential: “Such an honor to be here together representing Australia. In the future, we will have both technical and free routine. Ethan has been doing artistic swimming for a year and a half. So we are not ready yet. We are not strong enough. But we are willing to work and to improve our skills.”

Maria Shurochkina (RUS), gold, free combination: 

“We had a penalty in the preliminary round because of the extra time of our routine. We had to change, to cut it very quickly. We had only one final rehearsal before tonight’s competition. We managed to do everything in the very best way and get high scores even in this stressful situation.”

Vlada Chigireva (RUS), gold, free combination:

“During the programme I was saying to myself again and again: ‘Don’t forget, you have a new place, a new position in the routine’. We are happy we could show our maximum. When I saw the scores, I couldn’t stop dancing. Although I was exhausted. That meant we could relax, switch off and think about vacation.” 

Mikhaela Kalancha (RUS), gold, free combination:

“I like combo. This is the most spectacular routine for the fans. More swimmers are participating. There are the elements representing team, duet and solo. The visual impression is outstanding.”

Team China, silver, free combination:

Jie Wang, the leader of the coaches’ team, on the result:

“There are experienced athletes and young swimmers in the team. It’s a good combination. So I’m happy with the result. I could smile at the end with release”.  

“China is always number two. Russia is number one. Russia’s performance was almost perfect. They have many interesting and strong elements. That’s why we have to work more to compete with our main rivals. Especially next year at the Olympic Games.”

Anastasiya Savchuk (UKR), bronze, free combination: 

“The combo routine ‘Magic Castle’ is new and interesting. I would say it’s extraordinary and original, not common for Ukrainian sport. There so many things we never tried before. But this time we were very creative in producing the routine”.