Double golds for Spain and Italy on penultimate day of European Junior Championships

Credit to: European Aquatics

By Christina Marmet

The penultimate day of the European Aquatics Junior Artistic Swimming Championships was a whirlwind of excitement as nations vied for the coveted medals across four different events.

Continuing the trend of the last three days, Spain and Italy were once again at the top of the rostrums with stellar performances, each securing two more gold medals: Spain in the Women Solo Free and Duet Free, and Italy in the Men Solo Free and Mixed Duet Free.

This packed day of competition in Cottonera started off with the Women Solo Free Final, where the top 12 athletes, who had qualified from Friday’s preliminaries, got to showcase their routines once more.

Isabel Shuang Cui Xu of Spain was lights-out in the pool, scoring 266.9166 to claim her first individual European title. The 17-year-old had placed second in the preliminary round, counting one basemark, but could not be denied as she performed the most difficult routine of the final with a 40.30 Degree of Difficulty (DD).

Swimming to the theme of “Fall in Love”, the Spaniard also made a very strong impression on the judges, notably increasing her artistic impression score by 7.6 points from the preliminaries. Earlier in the year, Shuang Cui Xu had also won silver in this event at the Beijing World Cup.

Credit to: European Aquatics

European bronze medallist in this event, Marloes Steenbeek of the Netherlands swam to “Golden Hour” by JVKE and earned silver with a total of 263.6188. She had placed first in the preliminary, counting a basemark as well, but couldn’t quite overcome Shuang Cui Xu’s surge to the top despite her own improved performance.

Steenbeek only started competing in this event internationally this year, and has had a stellar season so far, bringing her country into the spotlight and onto the European podiums.

After placing third in the preliminaries, Zoi Karangelou of Greece stayed put in the final to claim the bronze medal with a score of 256.6772.

Silver medallist in 2023, the Greek athlete had increased her difficulty from the preliminaries by 1.25 to reach a total DD of 36.70 for the final. The risk paid off for the 19-year-old, who showed mastery in her “Witch” routine to stay on the podium and to bring Greece yet another medal in Malta.

Finally, and while all 12 finalists were credited their full DD, the soloists from France and Italy unfortunately did not earn the 40-point bonus only awarded for respecting the compulsory apnea time limit, which dropped them significantly down the rankings.

Credit to: European Aquatics

On the men’s side, Italy claimed its third gold (at that time) thanks to the performance of Filippo Pelati, the reigning European Junior champion and World Youth champion in solo.

The 17-year-old had declared the highest DD of the final at 34.25, and executed all his elements impeccably, swimming to Joe Cocker’s “Unchain my heart”. He scored 235.3313 to take home back-to-back European Junior titles, and to finish ahead of the reigning European Champion.

Indeed, Ranjuo Tomblin, who won Great Britain‘s first European gold in artistic swimming in 39 years in Belgrade just a few weeks ago, had to settle for silver today with a score of 216.2063. Even though his heartfelt performance to “Natural” by Imagine Dragons was greatly rewarded by the artistic impression judges, he ultimately couldn’t fend off Pelati and his higher difficulty.

Spain’s Jordi Caceres Iglesias claimed bronze with a score of 210.6334, swimming to “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna. Despite being the oldest athlete in the final, this season marks his first foray into international competition, making his achievements even more remarkable.

The 19-year-old’s success has been immediate, as he has already claimed six medals on the World Cup circuit in solo and mixed duet, further highlighting the nation’s depth of talent in male artistic swimming.

Credit to: European Aquatics

The third final of the day brought Spain even more success, as Naia Alvarez Vicente and Rocio Calle Garcia clinched the win in the Duet Free Final. The Spaniards had won the technical event 24 hours earlier and were intent on keeping that momentum going. They had placed first in the preliminary round and were once more excellent on their “Sacrosanto” routine to take the win with a score of 265.2418.

The top three from the preliminaries remained the same, with Greece and France placing second and third respectively.

The Greek pair of Sofia Rigakou and Vasiliki Thanou earned silver with a score of 262.3356 for their “What’s behind the door” choreography. The pair had just won bronze in the technical event and were able to bring home another medal for their country, notably with the highest artistic impression score of the final.

Oriane Jaillardon and Lou Thuillier of France came in with the highest DD of the field, a massive 46.65, on their “Avatar” routine. The French did receive a penalising basemark on their final hybrid and scored 261.3209, which was still enough for the bronze.

Despite the focus on high difficulty, artistic impression remains critical in artistic swimming and may sometimes play an important role in determining the medal positions. This was evident with France’s duet, who earned the highest Element score, despite the basemark, due to their very high starting DD and strong execution. However, their lower artistic impression score, only fourth overall, certainly impacted their final medal colour.

This bronze is nonetheless an outstanding achievement for this new pair, which has only been training together for a few weeks as Jaillardon lives and trains in Paris year-round alongside the senior team, while Thuillier is located in southern France with her club.

Credit to: European Aquatics

Following the success of the other Italian mixed pair yesterday, the European silver medallists Filippo Pelati and Flaminia Vernice claimed another gold for their country in the Mixed Duet Free with a score of 244.8813.

Vernice had just come from swimming in the Duet Free routine less than an hour before, but she didn’t let any fatigue or nerves show. She handled the tight schedule beautifully and performed in their “Orpheus and Eurydice” routine to secure the title.

After winning bronze in the technical event, Ariadna Benito Da Silva and Jordi Caceres Iglesias of Spain earned the silver medal in this free event, scoring 230.5313 on their intense “Angels & Demons” routine.

Finally, Ranjuo Tomblin, winner of the silver in the technical event, was paired with Holly Hughes for this mixed duet free final. Representing Great Britain, the pair had a powerful swim with a very strong artistic impression on their “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” routine, scoring 224.5543 for the bronze.

The championships conclude on Tuesday with the last three finals, starting with the Women Solo Technical and Men Solo Technical at 10:00, before wrapping up at 17:00 with the Team Free Final.

Keep up with the action on the European Aquatics TV YouTube Channel.

For results go to the Euro Aqua App.