From her early youth Svetlana Kolesnichenko showed talent. She was 13 when she was invited to join the junior national team, a great achievement for the girl, who was born and started training in the small town of Gatchina in the suburbs of Saint-Petersburg.
At 16 she received a life-changing phone call: “Sveta, you are going to work in Team Russia led by Tatiana Pokrovskaya.”
At the age of 23 Svetlana is an Olympic champion, a multiple world and European champion in team routine and a new solo star of synchronised swimming.
Svetlana, after your incredible solo performance in Budapest do you feel yourself a prima donna of synchronised swimming?
"I don’t like that word at all. No big talk, please. I just did my job and did it well."Natalia Ishchenko – here is a real star.
"As for me, I was in shock when the coaches first told me I would do solo at the World Championships."
"It was a huge responsibility to represent Team Russia in solo after Natalia Ishchenko with her “Swan Lake” and Svetlana Romashina with her “Marilyn Monroe”. I was afraid I wouldn’t cope with this challenge. I tried to set my mind on a new role in the team for almost a year. Finally, I believed in myself, in my potential. I want to return thanks to Natasha, Sveta, our solo-duet coach Tatiana Danchenko and head coach Tatiana Pokrovskaya for their help and support."
“Actually, I don’t like my photos”
Do you remember a fun fact at the beginning of the championships? They mixed up the photos and put a picture of Svetlana Romashina in the article about you in the daily newspaper of the championships. How did you react?
"Oh, it didn’t hurt my feelings. We made jokes about this situation with Romashina, who is still a part of our team, as an assistant coach now. Actually, I don’t like my photos. That’s why I said to myself with a smile: “Sveta, you look wonderful here!”
You are too modest! How did you manage to transform into an Amazon in your free solo routine?
"This programme was a 100 per cent full hit. By the way, Natasha Ishchenko suggested the idea. She found the music and produced the basic elements. I like that gesture when I fire an arrow. You know, it was not so easy to imitate archery. There were so many poor attempts, because I never did it in real life. I think, the Amazon image suits me. I connected with the character of a female warrior. I can say that I fought for the gold medal in the true sense of that word. I was strong, confident and aspired to win."
Your tech duet with Aleksandra Patskevich was “Jazz” on the music theme from “Chicago”. Did you watch the movie? What part did you play, Roxie or Velma?
"Yes, of course, we watched the movie. That was part of our preparation. We even had an idea of making two contrasting costumes – black and white – to show two different female characters. Then the concept had changed. The main task for us was to feel “All that Jazz”, to be emotional, to show the cabaret atmosphere. Our coach Tatiana Danchenko repeated insistently: “Be sexy, be sexy!”
Danchenko also told journalists that only a few girls from a team routine are able to become good duet swimmers. The artistic manner, the value of impression in these events are too different. You already had such an experience with Romashina in 2013. Did Patskevich switch over to duet easily?
"Well, in the group you can smile less than the other girls and nobody will notice that. In duet you have to smile, to knit, to arch the brows almost identically. You have to synchronise every movement – up to your little finger, to the smallest muscle on your face. We practised all those emotions day after day in order to do everything on the unconscious level. Besides, you don’t only have to show the emotion, you have to feel it. Alya Patskevich (as we call her in the team) is a very experienced athlete. Without doubt, we needed time to get used to each other. But I was sure she wouldn’t have any problems."
“Sleep and eat”
We have already seen “The Mermaids” in Natalia Ischenko and Svetlana Romashina’s interpretation at the Rio Olympics. What was your strategy? To do a better execution of this free programme, to prove you can perform routines as perfectly as that iconic duet did?
"No, we are not ones who are racing against each other. This basic point also refers to comparing your medal tally with Ishchenko’s titles. Every swimmer has her own chances, her own career. We created a new tech programme but kept the free routine. It was our reserve for the new duet. But it didn’t mean we wanted to copy Natasha and Sveta. Our routines were not similar. We tried to show the images in our own way. I think we did it. The scores were one of the highest through the synchro event – 97 points."
You had eight performances in six days. A very busy schedule, wasn’t it?
"I remember my debut for the national team at the Worlds in Shanghai 2011. Ishchenko had six finals and 12 performances overall, including the preliminaries at that championship. I can hardly imagine how she survived. She is my hero and inspiration. Although this time I asked Tatiana Pokrovskaya to kindly eliminate me from the group routine so I could focus on the solo and duet. After “The Mermaids” everybody was congratulating me on my fourth gold. Of course, I was excited. But I was happier because my personal marathon had come to the end. I had eight performances. I knew it would be impossible to save energy even in the prelims. I had to give 100 per cent every time."
"That’s why I decided to take part only in duet and solo. It is my limit for now. We’ll see how it will go in the future. For example, I would like to try myself in “highlights”."
What was more stressful – the very first performance in 2011 or this solo experience in Budapest?
"When we are young we have a great ability to take things easier. I did solo once in junior age. But that was a completely different level. I think my big solo debut with a “Solveig Song” tech routine was probably my hardest challenge. For this reason the gold medal will be the favourite. Nevertheless, my performance in Shanghai was also unforgettable. Aleksandra Patskevich, my temporary duet partner, tore off my nose clip. At that moment I thought it was my first and last appearance in Team Russia. But we had a happy ending.
How do you recover during the competitions?
"Sleep and eat."
Don’t you all keep to a diet? You are so slim!
"No, we don’t stint ourselves on food. I had a big serving of pasta at 11 pm after the late finish of the prelims in solo free programme. I ate everything with great pleasure. The next morning I also had a full breakfast. We compete every day, so we have to be physically strong. When we train at our training camp for 10 hours a day we also have an assorted plate with nuts, seeds, chocolate on the pool deck. The amount of training load is so high that we don’t count the calories. The rumours that synchro swimmers eat only salad leaves, like rhythmic gymnasts, are not true. Patskevich and I even had to gain some extra weight (3.5 kilos) to look like mermaids and not like baby fish."
“We are ready to overcome all difficulties”
Once asked about the dominance of the Russian team in synchro events, Ona Carbonell and Anna Voloshina told the journalist: “They are simply the best. When we manage to do something outstanding the podium could change, but not now”. They really meant it?
"We also pay tribute to their achievements. The Chinese duet Jiang Tingting and Jiang Wenwen is back on the podium after a two-year time-out. They took a break to give birth to children. I respect Ona Carbonell. The Spaniard was my main rival, especially in free solo. I’m happy for Anna Voloshina from Ukraine, who managed to win her first solo medal. We have good friendly relationships with all the girls. I don’t think anybody will intrigue against us. I feel that they congratulate us from a pure heart. We are rivals in the pool. But they have no resentment. It’s a fair result."
What is the secret of your success?
"The inspiration and the enthusiasm of our coaches. And the hard work of the swimmers. We train 10 hours a day. The only day off just rolls by."
Aren’t you fed up with this day-to-dayness, this stack of work?
"This is our life. We’ve got used to such a schedule. Sometimes, when you are exhausted or tired, you want to give up, to retire. But the next morning you get up and realise that you can’t live without synchro swimming. We are ready to overcome all difficulties, to pass all trials and testing for our goal."
How do you usually spend you days off?
"Some very ordinary doings: meet up with my boyfriend, go shopping, cook, drive a car. On the other hand, I never plan my vacation. Every time it’s something spontaneous."
Danchenko said, that your legs are as beautiful as Anna Netrebco’s voice in “Solveig Song”…
"I’m pleased to hear that. Many thanks to my parents and their genes. Of course, I use all my talents and looks to charm the judges and fans."