Synchro, Team Final – Golden streak for Russia, Chinese butterflies steal silver from Spanish mermaids

London 2012 Synchro

Once upon a time...Glittering butterflies, crocodiles, mermaids, dinosaurs, spiders, all were part of the fairy tales that were told to the 17,000-strong audience during the team free routine final on the last day of the Olympic synchronised swimming competition at London's Aquatics Centre. The eight teams in competition put on a spectacular, breath-taking show, scissor-kicking and intertwining 128 legs in all throughout their respective 4-minute long programme. 

Swimming to the military-inspired music pieces of War and Step by Denis Garnizov, defending Olympic champion Russia delivered a near-perfect, complex choreography that received a powerful score of 197.030 (tech 98.100, free 98.930), sealing an unbeaten golden streak of four synchro team crowns. The synchro superpower began an unstoppable reign over the sport with a breakthrough victory at the 2000 Olympic Games, and winning nothing but gold from then on. 

Post-event, team coach Tatiana Pokrovskaya said: "The inspiration behind the Chinese and Spanish routines was so different and that is inspiring; here at this level, it is so fantastically inventive. I learn from them and I want my girls to learn from them, our theme was the Lost World; it's an incomprehensible world, with dinosaurs, spiders, all kinds of creatures fighting. We found the music by chance and it led us to all this, we then looked what each part of the music would represent."

Russia's experienced roster included five returning athletes from the Beijing Games team (Davydova, Gromova, Ishchenko, Khasyanova and Romashina). "Everybody expects us to win gold and it is a lot of pressure. They also forget that silver and bronze are medals too," remarked Elvira Khasyanova. That gold lifts Russia's overall gold total at the Olympics to eight (including duet and team events) while Anastasia Davydova is the most "golden" synchro swimmer in Olympic history with five medals of this colour (having already two in duet and team from Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008).     

After a failed attempt in the duet (where they took bronze) and taking second behind Russia in the team technical routine (97.000), world number 2 China would resolutely be chasing their first piece of Olympic silverware in the team event. Commenting after the technical routine, their coach from Japan Masayo Imura said: "The defeat in the duet made the China team as one. The girls have never showed emotion so far but they were crying after the duet. By seeing them, I realised that they were really disappointed with the result. It was too late to unite their minds as one after having a painful experience like that though." 

But the team bounced back from yesterday's slump: combining technique, a precise sense of synchronisation and artistic talent, China's butterfly-inspired free programme dazzled the audience and judges alike and received 97.010 points for a total 194.010. 

"We are very happy, this was our best performance; we chose butterflies because we wanted to highlight some beautiful elements of the Asian culture," explained team member Ou Liu. Wenwen Jiang continued on China's progress on the synchro world stage: "This sport is very difficult, it's a team sport and to work in a team itself is a difficulty; it depends on the team, how hard we want this medal, that's why we got this achievement today." On their strengths, Yiwen Wu added: "We have beautiful legs when they are above the water; we are tall and better at the technical aspects than our competitors. The Russians are better at the details and the link between elements of the routine."  

Spain devised an innovative free routine to challenge China but their dream of a second Olympic silver in this event abruptly vanished when the score of their archrivals appeared on the screen: it was slightly higher, by 0.89 points. Spain totalled 193.120 (tech 96.200, free 96.920) for the bronze. The Spanish squad created a surprise when they climbed on the deck with shiny, mirror-effect fish-scale swimsuits and headpieces, resembling a wonderful vision of mermaids. Performing on a composition named The Ocean by Salvador Niebla, Spain unveiled a brand-new, intricate programme with graceful and fluid movements, hypnotising the audience and receiving wild cheering from the many Spanish fans in the stands. Each part of the routine perfectly matched the music and theme of the routine; they imaginatively crossed their feet to imitate a fishtail while water drops beat time in the music piece, for instance.     

credit: Giorgio Scala 

After the event, Alba Cabello said: "Russia has a great technical potential but we also know that artistically we are very strong so why not actually beat Russia one day?" And Thais Henriquez continued: "Above all, the most important thing for us is the feedback from our coach. We showed our best today, we made a lot of changes in our team since Beijing and are very happy with our success today." Commenting on the team and current world's top-3, coach Ana Tarres said: "It's been sometime that we have found ourselves in this situation because the competition is so close. We need to work on the technical aspects of the execution of our routines in order to try to improve our scoring. We also need to do an evaluation of our performance and learn from our rivals. Russia has an excellent standard in the sport; it is something we are looking at in order to emulate."

Rounding out of the podium was Canada (tech 94.400, free 95.230 for a total 189.630), who thrilled the audience with a much lively and acrobatic, Cirque du Soleil-inspired performance. On the previous day, they leapfrogged Japan in the technical routine (who were fourth in Beijing) thanks to an energetic programme set to the theme of soccer. Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon, three-time World bronze medallist and retiring after these Games, said: "We couldn't be any happier. We took many risks but everything was well performed." Team member Tracy Little added on the crowd: "The moment right before walking out to the platform today was pretty special. I realised how many people were there supporting what we do." 

credit: Giorgio Scala 

Japan chose a dramatic music piece that evoked a war theme, swimming close to rhythm and incorporating a nice array of pattern changes and cadence action, earning a total 187.630 for fifth place (tech 93.800, free 93.830). Japan is a former power in the sport and coach Miho Yoshida commented on the country making its way back on top: "This is a judged sport so it is not easy to come back again once you drop spots. We are still far from our target (95 points) but have improved since the last Worlds and Qualifying tournament."

The squad from the host federation were the first to perform, opening the show with a dynamic, Peter Pan-inspired routine, which received a total score of 175.440 (tech 87.300, free 88.140). This sixth place is the best result achieved by the team at Olympic level. On the theme and routine, Jenna Randall said: "Our first jump is really unique to us. It's a split stand stack. It was very pleasing that the lift worked so well. We wanted to do a British theme as the Olympics are in London. Everyone loves Peter Pan and recognises it as well." On the future improvement of the team, Olivia Federici continued: "This is just a stepping stone toward Rio; we really hope that we'll be peaking, and rooting for a medal." She added on the home crowd: "They were really amazing, you could hear them all the time when we were doing the routine, helping us go through it and supporting us."

The team of Egypt beat Australia for seventh, a nice improvement for this country which finished with a total 155.960 (tech 77.600, free 78.360). Team member Samar Hassounah was very pleased with the result: "We had our goal and we achieved it. We wanted to beat Australia. They beat us at the last Worlds [and also last Olympics] and now we beat them."

Closing the ranking today was the Australian team, whose faces are still fresh on the international synchro stage. The Australians used a rock piece for their free programme, earning a total 154.930 (tech 77.500, free 77.430).