Lara Teixeira took up synchronised swimming at the age of eight and two years later she was competing for Brazil. Now 28, she will be competing at her third Olympic Games this summer, as she goes in search of a first Olympic final in front of a passionate home crowd that will feature a strong contingent of friends and family members.
“I was smitten by the beauty of synchronised swimming, as a child,” recalls Lara Teixeira. “I used to do swimming, gymnastics and ballet, all at the same club, and between classes I used to watch the synchronised swimming classes and just loved the music and movements. When I was eight, I thought I was swimming well enough to give it a try. It had a bit of all the other sports I was doing - swimming, gymnastic and ballet - and that helped me understand the movements and technique. By the time I was 10 I was in the national team and that’s when I also started to think of it as a career.”
Inspired by Camille Mourão, the biggest name in Brazilian synchronized swimming when she was growing up, Lara’s first taste of success came when she was 20 back in 2007, at the Maria Lenk Arena in Rio, the same venue that will host this year’s Olympic competition. Making her Pan-American Games debut Lara came away with a bronze medal. “It was my first huge experience,” she recalls. “The noise that came from the stands was so loud it almost made me cry. It was one of the most exciting and emotional moments of my career. That was the day I understood why everyone says Brazilian fans are wild and different from any other in the world.”
Lara made her Olympic debut in Beijing in 2008. And while she admits she that she was not fully ready, she believes the experience gave her a strong belief she could compete at the highest level. “I didn’t train enough during that Olympic cycle and I only teamed up with my partner Naiara a year before the Games. But it was an amazing experience. And it allowed me to feel I could compete with the best synchronised swimmers in the world, and that I could achieve great things in the future.”
She even marked the experience by getting a tattoo of the five Olympic rings on her shoulder! “When you go for the Olympics for the first time, and realise that your dream is coming true and you are one of a few that has this pleasure, you want to make it last forever. So I decided to have the tattoo to make that Olympic moment last forever.
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Four years later, she was back in the Olympic pool, and this time was ready to take the competition in her stride. “London 2012 was a completely different experience. I was at my mental and physical peak. We gave our best, and were just 0.3 points from making the Olympic duet final. It left me with the feeling that we could do better. It’s one of the reasons that I decided to come back again.”
Lara admits that she still gets excited about the idea of rubbing shoulders with some of the world’s sporting icons on the Olympic stage. “When I arrived at Beijing 2008, I was really shy, but I said to myself: “Come on, you are an athlete just like all of them, don’t ask for photos”. But then I saw lots of other athletes fighting for a photo with former Chinese basketball star Yao Ming. So it was no big deal, it was an Olympic routine. In London, I took lots of photos. US swimmer Michael Phelps was among the stars and I asked him for a photo. I was frustrated that I missed out on a picture with Rafael Nadal. If I meet him in Rio, I won’t miss the chance of a photo!”
Given her passion for the Olympic Games, it is perhaps no surprise that she was appointed as a Youth Olympic Ambassador for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing, China, and she says that the experience helped to reinvigorate her and revive her own Olympic ambitions. “I didn’t expect that, but I had an amazing time. It made me relive the Olympic spirit, the youthful energy in Nanjing renewed the Olympism inside of me. We had to show our sportsmanship and our spirit, and be a positive example to their communities. I think we succeeded. At that point I was out of the Brazilian team and the YOG made me come back and fight for a place at Rio 2016. I’m 28 years old now, which is quite old for a synchronised swimmer, but what I felt in Nanjing motivated me to go for my third Olympic Games.”
Another source of motivation to return to the Olympic pool came in the form of one her role models, Spain’s Gemma Mengual, who decided to come out of retirement after having two children to compete at Rio 2016. “She is amazing. I really love her choreographies,” enthuses Lara.
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Lara is enthusiastic also about Brazil’s choreography for Rio. “The technical routine will have a motorcycle theme, with music inspired by hard rock, while the free routine will bring the spirit of samba and Carnival into the pool. It should be a nice contrast.”
She certainly won’t be short of support, with a busload of friends and relatives set to make the short journey from her native Campos in Rio de Janeiro state to cheer her on from the tribune. “The fact that I’ll be competing at home has been a source of strength for me, I don’t feel more pressure - I’m used to that. The biggest difference is that I’ll have all my friends and family supporting me in person. They’ve already bought tickets and will be renting a bus to come from Campos, which will be amazing.
“I hope to write my name in the history of Brazilian synchronised swimming. If we make the Olympic final it would be a watershed moment for our sport in Brazil.