Olympic medal-winning Russians Svetlana Kolesnichenko and Svetlana Romashina are among 20 prominent names who could make their mark at the International Swimming Federation (FINA) Artistic Swimming World Series event which starts in Kazan tomorrow.
The three-day competition, which will take place at the city's Aquatics Palace, is the third of eight legs in the 2019 circuit, which will culminate in the Super Final at Budapest in mid-June.
This is Kazan’s first staging of the FINA Artistic Swimming World Series, although the venue has a wealth of experience in hosting top-class events.
Six years ago, Kazan hosted the International University Sports Federation (FISU) Summer Universiade and two years later staged the FINA World Championships and FINA World Masters Championships.
Some 300 athletes from 12 nations will compete over three days, swimming five technical routines – solo, mixed duet, duet and team – and five free routines, which are solo, mixed duet, duet, team, combination and highlight.
The event will integrate the Russian Championships, one of the strongest on the continent.
Russia’s swimmers may take much of the spotlight but they will be up against strong contenders from Italy, China, Belarus, Hungary and Austria.
Home swimmer Kolesnichenko is one of the world’s prime performers in the solo event.
Last year, the Rio 2016 Olympic champion and 13-times world champion set the bar at a sky-high 95.5000 points for the free programme, while her team-mate Varvara Subbotina registered a season-best in the tech event of 94.1509.
But the absence of Subbotina, Ukraine’s Marta Fiedina and Yukiko Inui of Japan offers a huge opportunity in the technical programme for Vasilina Khandoshka of Belarus.
Italy’s Linda Cerruti is also expected to figure prominently, both in the solo and the duets, where she will compete with her long-time partner Costanza Ferro.
But all eyes are likely to be on home performer Romashina, who won the duet at the Rio 2016 Games with Natalia Ischenko.
Ukraine’s absence will have a particularly marked effect on the team event, which they dominated last season, and in which they have already earned Series wins this season in France and Greece.
In their absence there is a huge opportunity for the Russia’s new team of Mariia Shurochkina, Marina Goliadkina, Alla Shishkina, Vlada Chigireva, Polina Komar, Anastasiia Arkhipovskaia, Subbotina and Mayya Doroshko.
The bar, raised last year, is again pretty high: 97.0000 for the team free event and 94.6290 for the team technical.
Belarus, Kazakhstan and Hungary are also expected to challenge strongly.
Heading the mixed duets field will be the world and European champion Aleksandr Maltsev and his female partner Maya Gurbanberdyeva.
Their main challenge is expected to come from China or Spain.
The FINA Artistic Swimming World Series, launched in 2017, began this season in Paris before moving on to the Greek town of Alexandroupolis.
After Kazan, it will head to Tokyo, Beijing, Greensboro in the United States, Quebec and Barcelona before staging its finale in Budapest.