Elegance and simplicity are combined in different elements of an artistic swimmer's routine, as Yukiko Inui effectively demonstrated on Saturday, July 15.
In the final of the women's solo technical routine, a non-Olympic event, Inui captured Japan's first gold medal of the 2023 World Aquatics Championships at Marine Messe Fukuoka on the second day of the global extravaganza. The year's biggest meet on the international aquatic sports calendar runs through July 30 in Kyushu and also includes water polo, diving and swimming.
Inui, who made her world championships debut in 2009, delighted the Fukuoka crowd with her performance to "The Life of a Droplet." She received a winning score of 276.5717 points, which combined three scoring components (total difficulty, artistic impression and execution). Inui's biggest score came from the execution component from which she collected 170.8717 points. (Watch Inui's solo technical routine on the World Aquatics website.)
At age 32, Inui was the oldest competitor in the 12-woman final. Veteran experience paid off.
Austria's Vasiliki Alexandri, 25, placed second with 264.4200 points, followed by 20-year-old bronze medalist Iris Tio Casas of Spain (254.2100).
Yukiko Inui Keeps Calm
Looking back on her performance, Inui admitted that she felt at ease during the final, a feeling that appeared to help her.
"I was more calm than in the preliminaries," Inui said, according to insidesynchro.org before adding, "I knew exactly what I had to work on, and I told myself I could only win or lose.
"Stress would only hold me back, so I tried to be as calm as possible. I was trying not to think too much about the placement or the medals, only to swim well and clearly. And if I did that, I knew that the results would come."
Inui competes in a specialized discipline that was previously called synchronized swimming. Regardless of the sport's name, Inui is enjoying the fruits of her labor. The Shiga Prefecture native is unbeaten in 2023, with victories in Canada, France and Spain in Artistic Swimming World Cup events in the run-up to the Fukuoka meet.
Most notably, she was the double winner (solo freestyle and solo technical) at the Artistic Swimming World Cup Super Final in Spain in early June.
Appreciation for Fans' Support in Fukuoka
Inui said the Fukuoka audience's enthusiasm was instrumental in helping her defend her solo technical world title.
"Competing in my own country, I felt more nervous than ever before," Inui told reporters. "The audience's cheering helped me a lot."
Inou continued by saying, "I tried raising the difficulty a little ... and I was able to do it well. When I perform, I'm acting by overlapping my own competitive life with water, and I tried to express that tonight."
Inui won her first world title in the solo technical event at the 2022 World Aquatics Championships in Budapest. Her reaction in the Hungarian capital: "This gold medal means a lot for me, so I am very happy."
For a glimpse at what it takes to reach the top in a solo technical event, consider what's required during a 2-minute routine, the technical required elements, as highlighted on insidesynchro.org. For the highest degree of difficulty, here's a few examples: a 720-degree thrust continuous spin, a combined spin of 1,080 degrees (three rotations) and a fishtail half twist of 720 degrees.
Perseverance and dedication to her chosen sporting/artistic discipline are central themes of Inui's success story.
Inui made her world championships debut in 2009 and stuck with it.
The 2015 World Aquatics Championships, held in Kazan, Russia, validated her efforts. Inui took home four bronze medals (women duet technical, women team technical, women team freestyle and women team free combination events). Several more bronze medals followed in 2017 and 2019 in Budapest and Gwangju, South Korea, respectively.
Another Title in Fukuoka
On Wednesday, July 19, Inui grabbed the gold in another non-Olympic event, the solo freestyle, with a top score of 254.6062 points in the final round in Fukuoka. Alexandri was the runner-up (229.3251) and Britain's Kate Shortman (219.9542) claimed the bronze.
After securing the top prize, Inui paid tribute to Masayo Imura, Japan's well-known artistic swimming mentor.
"Last time [on July 15] I couldn't believe I was standing in the middle of the podium, but this time it really hit me hard," Inui was quoted as saying by Daily Sports. "I was able to win gold thanks to the best coach in the world."
Is Inui, who made her Olympic debut at the 2012 London Games, considering retirement?
In the euphoric moments after collecting her second gold in Fukuoka, Inui declined to provide details about her future plans.
Instead, Inui focused on what this tournament represents for her.
"I've waited a long time, but there was a reason why I persevered and entered this competition," Inui said, according to The Hochi Shimbun.
She then said, "I'm very happy that many people can see it."
Inui teamed up with Risako Mitsui to earn a bronze medal in the women's duet event at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games and she helped Japan claim another bronze in the team event in Brazil.
At the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, Inui and duet partner Megumu Yoshida placed fourth. The Japanese women also finished fourth in the team event in Tokyo.
Perhaps Inui feels she has unfinished business (medaling again at the Olympics) before considering retirement.
Teammates' Success in Fukuoka
The victory was notable for multiple reasons.
Yasunaga and Higa qualified for the 12-team final by placing 12th in the preliminary round two days earlier.
In addition, the last time a Japanese pair won the event at a world championship was in 2001, also in Fukuoka. That time, the winners were compatriots Miya Tachibana and Miho Takeda.
Reacting to what she and Higa achieved, Yasunaga said she hopes the victory will lead to success in 2024.
"Half surprised, half happy," Yasunaga said, according to Kyodo News. "We got lucky as well. We'd like to have this result lead to the [Paris] Olympics."
Author: Ed Odeven