Synchro day 3 - Russia retains duet title, Spain's London joy

London 2012 Synchro

Russia's Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina cruised to victory in the first final of the Olympic synchronised swimming competition, the duet, winning their first Olympic medal in this event and the fourth consecutive for Russia. This is the second Olympic title for Ishchenko, already a multiple World champion (with 16 gold), after her first place in the team event at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Looking like spooky puppets, the Russian duo chose a piece inspired by horror movies Suspiria and Sleepy Hollow, to captivate the audience and the judges throughout their much theatrical performance which they mastered with an unmatched level of technique. They started with two successive throws and perfectly mirrored each other to the end of the routine, amassing a total score of 197.100. 

Speaking after the event, Ishchenko said: "Of course, we are under pressure to win gold; we tried to focus on doing our best." Asked about their training and on the fact that Russia is so far ahead of other teams, she replied: "Success is explained by the fact that we are trained by the best experts. Without Tatiana [Dachenko], we would not have achieved this result. We train ten hours a day, in and out of the pool, this upside down we do in the water is no joke." She also described the building process of a free routine: "We prepare every new routine for about a year; it's a joint creation with our coach. We think of the image of the story first, then find the music, and eventually work on the figures and other elements of the routine. The design of the swimsuits and headpieces comes in the end."

Asked if, on the road to London 2012, they feared closest challengers Spain and China: "We knew Spain and China were our main competitors but we also knew they would mostly be competing against each other," rightfully asserted coach Dachenko. "I think in the last ten years, Spain grew considerably, they sustain a high place in the world rankings and they put in a huge amount of work, no less than we do. I am very pleased for them today," she continued.

Despite the many victories and the strong lead they impose on the rest of the field, Russia faces the toughest task: maintain the golden standard. "If we rest on our laurels, this will lead to failure, this competition field is not asleep; they train hard and of course, they want to defeat us," reminded the Russian coach. "This gives us an impetus to work harder, develop and create," added Romashina.

credit: Giorgio Scala 

The fiercest battle was the duel for silver between Spain's Andrea Fuentes/Ona Carbonell and Chinese pair Xuechen Huang/Ou Liu. Coming to London, Spain was hoping to renew their silver-medal finish from Beijing but also expected China to be the biggest threat after they edged them for number 2 at last year's World Championships in Shanghai.    

Moreover, the duet competition at the Olympic Aquatics Centre did not start in the best way for Spain: third after both the technical and the preliminary free routines, the Spanish pair entered the final in the worst possible position in their quest for the silver.     

Yet, the Spanish duo elated the audience and the judges alike with their Tango-inspired routine on music pieces La Comparsita by Gerardo Matos and Chin Chin by Astor Piazzola. From start to finish, they controlled every single aspect of their routine, with an impressive level of synchronisation and height of the figures. They totalled 192.900 points, beating the Chinese pair by the slimmest of margins; only 0.030 points!

As they waited for the judges' marks, a very emotional Fuentes could not figure out what was appearing on the scoreboard: "We could not see the score, did not know what result we needed to surpass China, so it took some time, actually a long time, to realise we were indeed second, we saw our coaches hugging and we thought 'OK, we got silver!'" At this moment, the two burst into tears of joy. 

credit: Giorgio Scala 

Post-event, Spanish coach Anna Tarres said: "You can win only by fighting. Today they have done it a lot." On the Russians, she added: "There is a very good relationship with them. They liked our choreography. It's a very sane rivalry. We are working together to develop further the sport." Fuentes is now Spain's most decorated Olympic synchro swimmer with three silver medals.

China, fourth in Beijing, makes their first podium in the duet event at this level, confirming their terrific progress on the world synchro stage in recent years. Xuechen Huang and Ou Liu obtained 192.870 for their dragon-themed routine: "We finally built our status within the three strongest countries in synchronised swimming with this medal," said their Japanese coach Masayo Imura. "With a big lead over the rest of the pack, it makes us more relaxed," she reasoned. Ou Liu, who already has an Olympic bronze from Beijing in the team event, said: "We got huge improvement compared to what we got at the previous Games; you can see it in the scores."

Marie-Pier Boudreau Gagnon and Elise Marcotte from Canada took fourth with 189.120 points. "This is our personal best since 1992, this was a huge performance," revealed Boudreau-Gagnon after their effort. "We know we won't come back with medals around our necks but we have no regrets because we can be proud of what we have done," she added, flashing a smile. 

The Canadian pair improved from a sixth-place finish in Beijing, now standing as the closest podium contender. The country's last appearance on the podium in this event was 20 years ago in Barcelona where they took silver.

Lacking their spark of previous Olympics, Japan's Yukiko Inui and Chisa Kobayashi finished a disappointing fifth (186.740), dropping two spots from their Beijing rankings. It is the first time since synchronised swimming debuted at the Olympics that Japan is absent from the podium in this event (they were third in 1984, 1988, 1992 and 2008, and second in 2000 and 2004).

credit: Giorgio Scala 

Swimming powerfully to the music Alone In The Dark (a series of horror computer games) by French composer Olivier Deriviere, Daria Iushko and Kseniya Sydorenko from Ukraine confirmed their excellent shape in London, taking sixth with a total 184.870 points. The duet is competing at their third Olympics and kept rising ever-higher in the world rankings since their first appearance at this level; eleventh in this event in Athens 2004, Iushko/Sydorenko moved up three spots for eighth in Beijing and two more in London.

Italy's Giulia Lapi and Mariangela Perrupato kept the same spot than in Beijing, seventh, with an overall 181.420. "We made a few mistakes in the first half of our routine; we did a little better than yesterday," revealed Lapi, who had swum the duet with Beatrice Adelizzi four years ago.  

Evangelia Platanioti and Despoina Solomou from Greece delivered a lively routine, which received a total score of 178.560. It is a nice progression for Greece and Solomou, who had finished tenth in Beijing with partner Evanthia Makrygianni.

Performing to the music of electronic duo Chemical Brothers, home favourites Olivia Federici and Jenna Randall did not disappoint the crowd, achieving the best-ever result for Great Britain at this level, placing ninth with 177.270 points. The host of the Games showed enormous progress in recent years; in London, they took part in a duet final for the first time since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. They had placed fourteenth four years ago.

The dramatic performance by French duet Sara Labrousse/Chloe Willhelm displayed a high level of both technique and artistry to the theme of Swan Lake, for which they obtained 176.260 points, beating USA for tenth. "We did even better today, we're very happy with our performance, we enjoy performing in front of the crowd and we keep improving our score," said Willhelm. "To be in the final is already amazing, it's a unique experience, millions of synchro swimmers dream about that. Our motivation is to perform our best every day," she continued. 

Following in eleventh, American pair Mary Killman/Mariya Koroleva (175.670 points) performed an Olympics-inspired routine, similar to the Canadian performance that won silver at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. USA, the birth place of the sport, won the first gold contested at the Olympics for this discipline in 1984. Fifth in Beijing, the Americans are eager to make their return on top. 

Korean sisters Hyunha and Hyunsun Park closed the final's rankings with a total 173.950 points. The Asian duet, who has been swimming together for ten years, won bronze at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China. It is the second time that Korea makes an Olympic duet final, after Sydney in 2000.