Although Canada has a rich heritage of successful synchronized swimming duets, the duo who will wear the Canadian team colours in the upcoming 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio, have forged their own unique presence in the water.
After a decisive victory at the 2015 Pan Am Games qualified them for the Olympics, Montreal’s Jacqueline Simoneau and Gatineau’s Karine Thomas have had over a year to create and refine the routines they will compete in Rio. Working with the Canadian team head coach Meng Chen, the two have carried on this country’s tradition of memorable routines, but have boldly carved out their own distinctive style.
Chen grew up in the Chinese synchronized swimming system, and combines her knowledge of that exacting training regime with Canadian sport science techniques to expand the traditional boundaries of synchronized swimming. The three, along with the support staff at the National Training Centre in Montreal, which includes veteran Canadian Assistant Coach Lyne Piché and seasoned biomechanist Mickael Begon, have studied video of the top duets in the world, learning from their techniques and challenging the athletes to compete at the same gold medal standard.
In developing two distinctly different routines, Chen wanted to highlight the versatility of her athletes. She also paid homage to Canada’s reputation in the sport. “Canada has always been known for presenting creative routines that stood out from the other countries. We are known for innovation, and I want our Canadian duet, as well as our national team, to continue pushing the sport to another level.”
Both routines have incorporated a storyline to draw the audience into the performance. “Creating two different routines, each with its own unique style, story, music and mood, while keeping the execution and difficulty at such a high level, is the most challenging, yet rewarding, aspect of creating these routines,” added Chen.
The Technical Duet shows off the pair’s athletic speed, strength and power.
Performed to the music of Breakout by Erik Ekholm and Race to the Line by Geoffrey J.P. Holroyde & Emre Ramazanoglu it tells the story of a pair of beautiful but dangerous mythical forest creatures, with special powers assigned to them by the Olympic gods. While the storyline of this routine shows their struggle to survive, the technical skills are clearly evident. The duet covers the pool with their speed, actually completing an additional lap in the choreography. Their strength and power is seen in the dynamic height out of the water and stability in their vertical positions.
The emotional and sophisticated Free Duet uses the same strong technical skills, while bringing out a totally different style that combines traditional and modern dance themes adapted to the water.
This haunting and penetrating Spanish-style tango is performed to Tore my Heart by the contemporary artist OONA. The same strong connection is evident between the swimmers and the music, and between the swimmers and the audience.
This free routine demonstrates the timeless, conflicting emotions of passion, self-doubt, personal struggle, joy, frustration, and ends ultimately in triumph of the heart. The choreography combines intricate technical elements with Canadian creativity to create magic in the water. Unique figures have been constructed to match this music – figures which contain many angles, and unique thrusting techniques, all done in a way to generate as much pool coverage as possible.
This demanding routine includes such difficult actions as multiple spins, barracuda with twirl, propulsion across the pool without a pause, while using the tempo changes in the music to explore the themes and adding a hint of contemporary dance in the foot movements. It also balances the time above the water with time spent turned upside down. “This duet has the ability to make the extremely difficult look elegant and easy. That’s a result of the training, dedication and hard work that they have put in during this past year to get to this point,” said Chen, who is clearly proud of the two athletes.
Chen has also left no stone unturned in the progress of this pair.
“We constantly compare our routine with a gold medal standard routine. We are confident with all the work we have done with multiple experts that our routine is at that level. We strive to achieve that benchmark every day in training so that in competition we may exceed and surpass that gold medal standard.”
It has been 24 years since a Canadian synchronized duet last stood on an Olympic medal podium. Canadians have won three Olympic medals in the event: Carolyn Waldo / Michelle Cameron-Coulter, gold, 1988, Seoul, Korea; Sharon Hambrook / Kelly Kryczka, silver, 1984, Los Angeles, USA and Penny Vilagos / Vicky Vilagos, silver, 1992 Barcelona, Spain.
Following the successful debut of the programs at the 2016 Synchro America Open in Riverside, California, Simoneau and Thomas, along with Chen and their support staff have just finished their pre-Olympic training in Boca Raton, Florida. They have put the finishing touches on the two routines they hope will add their names to the long list of outstanding Canadian Synchronized Swimming Duets.
The Olympic duet competition gets underway in Rio on August 14 at 10am EDT with the presentation of the Duet Free preliminary round.