Team USA's innovative synchronised performance in Gwangju wowed Korean fans, but Olympic berth remains elusive.
There may have been grey storm clouds over the Yeomju Gymnasium, but the atmosphere inside for this 2019 FINA World Championships artistic swimming final was electric.
The sport is popular in Korea and, in a sealed-off arena where the noise reverberates around its high walls, the applause could be deafening at times.
True to form, as the USA’s Team Free athletes were called out to perform the sixth routine of the night, there was a roar of excitement from the mostly local fans in Gwangju.
After seeing the unique robot routine for the first time in qualifying on Wednesday, rumour had clearly spread amongst fans that these women were attempting something totally new for the sport.
It also helps that Korea is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, and robots are everywhere! The machines can even be seen in the Gwangju 2019 athlete’s village, providing transportation times, directions, and other useful information.
Where artistic swimming team entrances to the pool are traditionally silky smooth, the United States’ jittering, mechanical approach – designed to imitate a robot walking – was unique but no less harmonious.
Sparkling in metallic-silver sequin, the team executed some impressive lifts and jumps that drew plenty of ‘oos’ and ‘ahhs’ from the bleachers.
Their final score was 84.40 points which, although highly respectable, was only good enough for an 11th place finish in the final.
“We are 90% happy, but always the coach wants a little bit better. It was our best performance ever.” Coach Andrea Fuentes told Olympic Channel immediately after their FINA World Championships 2019 final.
On their upcoming Pan American Games routine, the coach revealed they will make some changes.
“We will speed up the music, to make it a little bit faster and more interesting for the audience and we will improve our best acrobatics."
Pre-competition favourites Russia took the FINA World Championships title, with China picking up silver and Ukraine bronze.
These 2019 FINA World Championships in Gwangju are classified as a second-tier Olympic qualification event, meaning only the top two finishers (that had not already qualified for the Tokyo 2020) winning an Olympic berth.
Their next opportunity for Olympic qualification comes at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, and the USA team will go straight there from Gwangju.
The Women's Team event in Peru takes place from 29th to 31st July, and the winners will gain an Olympic qualifying spot.
The last 3 qualifying spots for Tokyo 2020 will be awarded at the final Olympic Qualification Tournament in January.