Japan bagged the prized team and duet gold medals as the Tokyo leg of the FINA Synchronised Swimming World Series reached its climax on Sunday.
It completed a near-clean sweep for the Japanese, whose stranglehold on the meet was broken only by Spain’s Ona Carbonell in Friday’s solo.
Yukiko Inui — duet bronze medalist at Rio 2016 alongside Risako Mitsui — had teamed up with Mai Nakamura in Saturday’s technical, the pair scoring 90.4721 and earning a 2.1271-point lead over Canada’s Jacqueline Simoneau and Karine Thomas.
Kanami Nakamaki then replaced Nakamura as Inui’s partner in the free, yet the transition was seamless, the pair scoring 92.6333 for a total of 183.1054.
A score of 89.6000 gave Simoneau and Thomas 177.9450 overall and silver. Evangelia Papazoglou and Evangelia Platanioti, of Greece, consolidated their third place in the technical with a free score of 87.7333, for a total of 173.6279 and the bronze.
In spite of their impressive interpretation of a clear sky after a storm, Nakamaki was self-critical: “There were parts where I was really off the music so I have to work on that,” she said.
Inui said: “We came up with a new way of organising team members, and decided technical was Mai and free would be Kanami, because those are their strengths.”
Nakamura added: “The team came here to win and we thought we needed to show what we are aiming for leading to the FINA World Championships in July. This is our home country, so we wanted to show fans what we are capable of.”
The second-placed Canadians surprised themselves, given a disrupted schedule in 2017.
“We haven’t trained much for the duet since the Olympic Games,” said Simoneau, who alongside Thomas placed seventh at Rio 2016.
“Karine lives about 200km away, so I’m very proud of our performances considering that. From now until Budapest, we’ll both be living in Montreal, so we’ll be able to train together a lot more, and with that I think we’ll be able to fix the major mistakes we made today.”
Thomas added: “It’s a bit of a first for me. Not being as prepared as we normally are is weird, because we’re normally together 24/7, 360 days a year, and this year is a bit of a test for us, but I think we surprised ourselves and did better than we expected. Definitely there’s a lot of things we want to do better, but considering the training I'm pretty happy.”
The pair’s soundtrack was Tore My Heart by Oona.
“The routine is Tore My Heart, so we were trying to portray all the emotions people endure when they go through a heartbreak — the anger, the sorrow, the pain, and, at the end, a little bit of life and hope,” said Thomas.
After Rio, Thomas said this would be her last year in the sport, and remains committed to that. She enjoys baking cookies, eating out, and watching The Food Network, and said she might try to align her foodie interests and future career.
“I'm definitely planning for it to be my last year,” she said. “I used to have 50% of a catering business. I’ve put that to one side now with the Games coming up. It’s a possibility for the future — I like organising events.”
Simoneau and Thomas are avid collectors of, respectively, snow globes and fridge magnets and will be topping these up in Japan.
“We had a small training camp in Nagoya before coming here, so I bought a snow globe there, and I already have one from Tokyo,” said Simoneau, a solo silver medalist at the 2014 FINA Junior World Aquatics Championship in Helsinki.
Thomas added: “I haven’t got a fridge magnet yet. I got here a little bit later and I didn't have time to go shopping, but let me tell you I'm on it. I'm so excited, they have such great fridge magnets here, ones in sushi shapes, they look so real!”
Earlier on Sunday, team bronze medalists at Rio 2016, Japan went into the free with a commanding lead after Friday’s technical routine, in which they scored 91.5684, leaving second-placed Mexico (85.5436) and Kazakhstan (78.6959), in third, trailing in their wake.
The hosts registered 93.2000 in the free, giving them 184.7684, well clear of silver medalists Mexico (171.2769) and third-placed Kazakhstan (158.1626).
On Saturday, the Japanese took the free combination gold, while Atsushi Abe and Yumi Adachi claimed the mixed duet honours by virtue of being the only entrants, giving them four of the five golds on offer.
The Synchro Japan Open, which also features domestic title events, is the third stop on the seven-leg FINA Synchronised Swimming World Series.
The World Series bandwagon next moves on to Toronto, Canada, starting May 2. It then calls at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in Spain, and Long Island, USA, before concluding in Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent.