Russia’s synchronised swimmers shine brighter than ever
In both the duet and group competitions, Russia have now secured every gold available since the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. In Rio, Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina took their personal medal tallies to five golds apiece, retaining their duet title as well as forming part of the group that produced a stunning routine to overcome China and Japan.
Extending Russia’s record to five duet golds in the last five Olympic Games and retaining the title they won in London in 2012, Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina outscored their Chinese and Japanese rivals in front of a packed crowd at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on 16 August 2016.
The Russian pair delivered a stunning free routine performance to seal victory with a total score of 194.9910. China’s Huang Xuechen and Sun Wenyan pocketed silver with 192.3688 while Japan’s Yukiko Inui and Risako Mitsui took bronze with 188.0547.
In claiming back-to-back golds, the Russian pair now move level with compatriots Anastasia Davydova and Anastasia Ermakova on a record two consecutive Olympic titles in the event. In Rio they opted to use the same mermaid choreography that had won them gold four years earlier. Indeed, the routine is so dear to them that they even had accompanying music written especially for this Games. “Sometimes people call us mermaids and ask us if we have gills, so we are really comfortable with this routine,” explained Romashina.
Ishchenko, meanwhile, admitted that the burden of expectation placed on the Russian synchro swimmers is always very high: “Psychologically it’s very hard because we understand that we’re always expected to win. We’ve set the bar so high already and obviously we cannot drop it. There’s a lot of attention on us. We’re always being watched so we have to be three heads higher than the rest of the field.”
Chinese pair Huang and Sun won silver, the former adding to the bronze she earned when partnering Liu Ou at London 2012. “There’s a lot of sacrifice in terms of training, and in my personal life too,” said Sun. “I sacrificed a lot to get this medal.”
Finally, Inui and Mitsui made it seven medals out of eight Olympic duet competitions for Japan. “I am very happy to win a medal today,” said Inui. “I’m delighted with how well we performed.”
Russian team extends golden streak
With eight pairs of legs springing from the water to form the shape of hands clasped in prayer, the Russian synchronised swimming team swept to their fifth consecutive Olympic title in dazzling style on 19 August.
While somewhat expected, an impressive score of 99.133 for their stunning routine made this victory particularly sweet for the Russian team and the flawlessly-choreographed piece also had a particularly personal resonance for head coach Tatyana Pokrovskaya.
“She [our head coach] had a family drama while preparing us for the Games in Rio and that became the main message behind this routine,” Ishchenko explained when discussing their performance entitled “The Prayer”.
“I happen to believe that this particular programme was the best ever in the history of synchronised swimming,” said Ishchenko, a 19-time world champion and now a quintuple Olympic champion. The judges clearly agreed, awarding the Russian team a total score of 196.1439 points for their technical and free routines ahead of China, who took silver with a total of 192.9841, and Japan, who sealed bronze with 189.056.
“We said to each other that we wanted to have five medals, like the Olympic rings,” joked Romashina, who won two titles in Rio, two in London in 2012 and one in Beijing in 2008. “My parents have a special box for them. They all belong to my parents because they were the ones who took me to the swimming pool when I was six years old.”