The second edition of the FINA World Youth Artistic Swimming Championships concluded with the team representing the host United States of America crowned as the overall winner of the Championships. For the past week, the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center located amongst the skyscrapers, rooftop patios, and major league sports venues in one of the most beautiful cities in the USA, Charlotte, North Carolina, has been the site where the future elite Artistic Swimming athletes were able to showcase their talents while competing against one another for the top honours.
For the global collection of young athletes in Charlotte, it has been a week full of exciting experiences. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting cancellations of many in-person events, Charlotte was the first international championship for most participants.
Slovakia’s Zofia Strapekova: “It was really fun being here and competing and getting the chance to meet people from other countries”
USA’s Ayla Barry: “This is such a cool experience, to be in an international competition. Most of us have never been to a World Championship and seeing all these different countries.”
After the preliminary rounds on Wednesday and Thursday, the best twelve routines in each of the events had another opportunity to perform in front of the judges to showcase their choreography. A great number of the choreographies featured music from older artists, Michael Jackson, Queen and Janis Joplin to name a few. When asked about the choices for their music, Kazakhstan’s Aldiyar Ramazanov who swam his choreography to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” shared that he is a huge fan of Michael Jackson’s dancing and singing talent. USA’s Ayla Barry said she never knew who Janis Joplin was and that the coaches chose the music for her, but she has since fallen in love with the energy and power of the song because it allows for so many different opportunities within the song.
As was the case in Charlotte, often, the final rankings in all events in the youth category remain uncertain until the end, because the final scores are determined by adding the score earned by the athletes in the Figures event to the score awarded in the final round of each of the events. The performance of the athletes in the Figures event can be unpredictable and has the potential to change the final ranking of the events.
The gold medal was won by fourteen-year-old Japanese superstar Moe Higa. Higa’s performance of her “A Strange Story” choreography based upon a mysterious Japanese anime was awarded 82.6000 points to bring her total to 161.8745 points after the addition of her Figures event score. Although Higa is only fourteen years old, she already won two silver and one bronze medals in the Technical and Free Team and Team Combo events as a member of Team Japan at the 19th FINA World Championships this past June in Budapest, Hungary.
Moe Higa: “I am having fun, being here. this has been the best time.”
With an accumulated score of 159.8308, the 2022 European Youth Solo and Duet Champion France’s Laelys Alavez claimed the silver medal. Alavez’s choreography portraying the metamorphosis of a doll received 81.2000 points.
Ranked in third for the bronze medal with 156.4607 points, Spain’s Carla Lorenzo Llusca swum to the music “Voila” and received 79.6667 for her performance which she claimed to be representative of herself.
Carla Lorenzo Llusca: “You have to love yourself and what matters is what you think of yourself. The title of the music “Voila”, indicates here I am, and to always be yourself. It was difficult being by myself, representing my country, but I am very happy.”
With 148.8850 points, France’s Lucas Valliccioni wrote his name into the record books by becoming the first-ever World Youth Champion in the first international male-only event in artistic swimming. Valliccioni received 73.4667 points for his performance to the music by fellow countryman Arsene Lupin. The choreography and music allowed the Frenchman to demonstrate his power and technical expertise beautifully.
Said Valliccioni: “The routine was hard, physically, but I stayed strong mentally, and the music brought me energy. When I saw the scores, I was very happy.”
The silver medal was awarded to USA’s Michael Chan with 143.9045 points after he received 71.3000 for his routine “The Eye of the Tiger”.
“I had a rough start, but than I had this surge of adrenaline and felt like I had more energy. This music allows me to showcase my power as a male artistic swimming. Parts of the choreography are my own, but parts were done by the coaches to increase the level of difficulty.”
With a final score of 137.0333, Kazakhstan’s Aldiyar Ramazanov, claimed the bronze medal in this historic event. Ramazanov received 66.7000 for his routine swum to the song “Billy Jean” by Michael Jackson.
“It was difficult, but it did go well, and I am happy with the final results.”
The gold medal, with 158.228 combined points, went to the “Evil Mermaids” routine performed by the Spaniards Rocio Calle Garcia and Xenia de la Puente Descals with their 79.6333 point performance. In a beautiful act of good sportsmanship, Calle Garcia and de la Puente Descals were acknowledging the importance of the reserve to the duet Marina Sarmiento Figueredo to their success.
“We are so satisfied with the results, but we know that this is the work of all three of us. A duet is not just the two who swim the routine in the competition. It is all the work done by the three of us to get to the competition, to get the results, the three of us are all winners.”
With a final score of 154.803, the Japanese duo Rena Matsumoto and Risako Mitsuhasi, earned the silver medal. Although the Japanese outscored the Spaniards in the routine portion of the competition with an 80.6333, their results from the Figure event were not sufficient to outrank the Spanish duo for the final results.
“The social and the training were the best parts of this week. All we want to do now is keep training to get to the next international competitions.”
USA claimed their sole gold medal in Charlotte came through the performance of the duo Michael Chan and Jennifer Ryu. The duet scored 73.6667 for their K-pop “I Am the Best” routine, which they inherited from pioneer Bill May and duet partner Natalia Vega. Combined with their Figures result, the Americans topped the rankings with 146.426 points.
Jennifer Ryu: “I was smiling the whole time; we were having a lot of fun with it. The song keeps repeating “I am the best”, and that is what we are trying to portray.”
The silver medal went to Great Britain’s Maxwell Sewell and Eve Young for their choreography on “Beggin”’ by Maneskin. The pair received 69.8333 points for a total of 136.547 points. The pair happily explained the theme of the routine which involved the universally known “chase” within relationships.
Maxwell Sewell: “I really want her, but she does not want me back. But today it looks like we were able to succeed. I felt like we really got it together today.”
Spain and Japan were awarded the exact same score for their final Team routine presentations, 82.0000 points. However, due to a solid lead over the Japanese in the Figures score, Spain secured its second gold medal with a combined score of 158.270 for their “Avatar” routine.
“Like the theme in Avatar, when you are in conflict, you need to be able to rely on each other and be united. That is how we are as a team.”
With the silver medal routine, “Nightmare” Japan ended with 156.444 points, while the bronze medal, with a combined score of 151.273 went to the USA for their “Birds” routine.
Ayla Barry: “The music is super powerful, yet very beautiful and soft. We all picked different birds that we were going to represent, from an eagle to a wire bird and a falcon.”
Japan earned its second gold medal in Charlotte by scoring 82.4000 points in the Team Combo event with their “Pirates of the Caribbean” choreography.
“We thought we made some small mistakes, and we probably could have done a little better, but we had fun swimming today.”
Spain scored 81.3667 points to claim the silver medal with their Cirque du Soleil’s “Amaluna” routine which they inherited from the very successful 2015 Spain National Senior team. With 78.5667 points, the team from the USA stepped on the last spot of the podium to take home the bronze medal for their performance of the “Marionettes” routine.
“It went better than the prelims and we are satisfied with the results. Working together with this group has been amazing and it was a learning experience about international competitions.”
Full results of the Championships can be found on the FINA Website.
To re-live the competition, catch all the action again on the FINA YouTube event playlist.