Saturday, August 7. It is 10 in the evening in the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. The last competition of the Olympic Games in this venue is over. It was the final of the Team event in Artistic Swimming. The mixed zone – hectic during the Swimming week, and also well attended by media and athletes some hours earlier – is almost empty. In the huge room, some volunteers, and one single athlete giving an interview to a solitary journalist. This athlete is simply the best in history in the discipline she loves – artistic swimming. Svetlana Romashina, the Russian legend, seven Olympic gold medals. After a couple of minutes, she finishes her interview and we ask some minutes to speak with her. She gladly accepts. With patience, with diligence, with sympathy.

During the dialogue, Svetlana reflects on her replies. She likes to tell her story. The moment has finally arrived to analyse her amazing career, spanning for over 15 years at the highest level. She measures her words, she is paused – her energy was left in the water, where with her teammates, she once more delighted the judges with a flawless routine, under the theme “Parade of Planets”. Flashback and memories, but also some thoughts on the future – Svetlana smiles, recalls the past, but leaves some hidden plans for her only. 

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Born on September 21, 1989 in Moscow, she is only six when her parents take her to the pool. In 1995, Russia was far from being the powerhouse it is today. Only in 1998, Olga Sedakova initiated this outstanding saga, by winning the three world titles at stake (solo, duet and team) at the FINA showcase in Perth. Two years later, also in Australia, Olga Brusnikina & Co started in Sydney what is presently an uninterrupted series of 12 wins at the Games – Duet and Team, the two artistic swimming events in the Olympic programme. 

“When I started, it was just the beginning of the discipline in my country. When my parents took me to the swimming pool, they were far from imagining that I would take this as my professional career”, she recalls. “When I was 11 or 12 I had my first good results in Russian competitions and at that moment I told to my friends, the ones I was swimming with, that I would be an Olympic champion. Everyone thought it was a joke, that it was just a dream of a little girl. However, after some years – six, seven – I became an Olympic champion. I was just 18. It was like a dream”, Svetlana says, referring to the first Olympic title (in Team), at the 2008 Games in Beijing. “At that moment, I understood I could do more. I could win more medals, and I had time to win them, as my first Olympic Games were very early”, she continues.

Four Olympics later, she leaves the scene with seven gold medals around the neck, the best ever for an athlete in artistic swimming. “No, I never imagined arriving to this stage”, she confesses. “The results in Tokyo clearly compensated our very difficult two last years. These were the most challenging years in my life. Physically and mentally. Just my family knows how I lived these years. Only they can understand how I felt and what I’ve gone through. I just want to thank them for this. These last two gold medals are the medals of my family”.

On her superstar status, the Russian is also clear: “I am trying not to think about this. I take that idea away from my mind all the time. Our coaches often say that when you win the gold medal, when you are on the top of the podium, you are the best. But once you leave the podium, you are just an athlete. You are just a person who needs to work more to reach the next goal. I believe in that philosophy”.

With 26 gold medals (including three as reserve swimmer) at the World Championships – also an unmatched feat in artistic swimming – Svetlana necessarily reflects on her future. “I need to understand what to do now. These are officially my last Games. But I will not enter into more details about next year. I need to have a rest, I am very tired, but in some months, I will announce to everyone my plans”. 

Mother of a four-year-old daughter, Svetlana still concedes: “As a mother, I would like to have my second baby, I think that I am ready for that. Then, I don’t know… Maybe coaching – many countries have contacted me for that, they invited me to work with them”. Having studying Sports Management at the Moscow University, she has a “dream”: “In the future, maybe to work in FINA or even in the IOC. I think I can do it and bring my experience there. I hope this can happen!”

If on the special-moment list, she includes the birth of her child and the two titles in Tokyo, Svetlana has no regret in life: “I have done everything I should and need to do. This was my goal, this was my plan: to go to Olympics in the best possible shape, and to win gold there. Now, maybe it’s the end, but we will see...”

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Having won gold in all events at the FINA World Championships – from 2005 to 2019 -, we ask Svetlana if she prefers Solo, Duet or Team. “I like Solo, because in Solo I can show myself, I can show my individual, you can be more emotional and choose the programme that best suits you. I hope in some years, Solo can also become an Olympic event”, she admits.  

On being a role model and an example to follow, the Russian great admits she would love to attract children for this discipline. “Basically, you need to love sport. I am a fan of sports, otherwise I wouldn’t be here! I love synchro. To do something well, you need to love what you are doing. If you really love what you do, you’ll have a good result. Synchro is beautiful! When I was younger I was dancing; I also liked it, but synchro became really special for me. I would like to transmit this passion to the younger generation”, she explains. Perhaps, with one notable exception, her own daughter: “Well, my husband is not a great supporter of our daughter doing synchro… He sees and understands how difficult it is, how much you need to work”, she proceeds, smiling.

“Synchro”? Svetlana abundantly uses the expression when she refers to the discipline. In 2017, at the FINA Congress, the change of name was decided, and “synchronised swimming” became “artistic swimming”, but many around the pool just continue saying “synchro”. “You know, in Russia, we haven’t changed the name of our Federation, which is still called ‘synchronised’. But don’t forget: we were the last Olympic champions in synchronised swimming, but we were also the first ones in artistic swimming”, she concludes.

End of the interview. The volunteers that remain in the almost-empty room of the mixed zone enthusiastically applaud the immense champion. She smiles once more. Svetlana is a happy woman. She is the best ever in her sport!

Congratulations Svetlana! Thank you and all the best!

Image Source: Photo by gettyimages