If the official test event is anything to go by, the synchronised swimming competition at Rio 2016 could be full of surprises. The event doubled as an Olympic qualifier. The biggest upset was that London 2012 bronze medalists Spain were edged out of the top three in the team competition – meaning they will not return to Brazil later this year.
With around 2,500 people watching inside the impressive Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre, which has been renovated ahead of the Games and was hosting its second test- event, Spain fell short while Italy qualified in dramatic fashion.
After seeing Ukraine and Japan effectively wrap up the top two places during the competition’s finale on Sunday, 6 March, the third-placed Italians had to see whether Canada would pip them on their last routine. The Canadians eventually finished 0.7 points behind Italy, who will participate in the team event at the Olympics for the first time since Athens 2004.
“Some of us cried, others hugged, but we were all shouting a lot,” said Italy’s Sara Sgarzi afterwards once her team’s place was confirmed. “The city is beautiful, the weather, the people … everything. It gave us even more motivation to qualify and come back here.”
Ukraine, who took gold, qualified for the first time ever and one of their swimmers, Anna Voloshyna, paid tribute to the backing of the Rio crowd. “Our aim was to take gold and we even managed to win gold,” Voloshyna said. “The fans were fantastic.”
Australia, China, Egypt, Russia and Brazil will join Sunday’s qualifiers in the Rio 2016 team event. Stefania Tudini, the president of the International Swimming Federation’s (FINA) synchronised swimming technical committee, said that the exciting weekend’s competition, and particularly the unexpected departure of Spain, demonstrated the depth of quality in the sport.
“People say that our sport doesn’t change, with the favourites always winning,” she said. “But today we have seen that this is not always true.”
The rest of the places for the duet event were also confirmed on Sunday. There were four up for grabs and they were taken by Argentina, Great Britain, Slovakia and Belarus – with all of the 24 berths for Rio 2016 now decided.
Further improvements, including work on the changing rooms, will be made to the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre before the Games begin in August. The venue has impressed during the test events, though, and all eyes are now on a memorable summer of competition.
“We are pleased with this test event,” Tudini said. “The organisation was good, the technical level was high and the venue met all the demands.”
The next test event for Rio 2016 will be the Aquece Rio International Judo Tournament, held in the Carioca Arena on 8-9 March.