Japanese synchro team swims to silver

by Leeroy Betti

SYDNEY — Japan lifted perfect 10s from the Sydney International Aquatic Center on Friday but had to be satisfied with a second Olympic silver in the battle with Russia for world dominance in synchronized swimming.

The eight-member Japanese team aced the artistic impression component of its final free routine for a score of 40.000, surpassing the more highly favored Russians’ score of 39.733.

“Seeing 10s was a first-time experience for me. It looks beautiful,” said Miho Takeda, who combined with team captain Miya Tachibana to win silver in the duet final Tuesday.

But Russia edged them out with 59.600 in technical merit for a combined score of 64.566. Japan’s princesses of the pool earned 59.000 and a combined score of 64.350 points.

After taking into account Thursday’s technical routines, that left the Japanese team an agonizing .286 points from gold in the overall standings.

The eight-member Japanese team, World Championship silver medalists, scored an overall total of 98.860 points to Russia’s 99.146.

The Canadian octet snatched bronze with a total score of 97.357 points, ahead of France’s 96.467 points.

Chants of “Nippon” rang out as the Japanese women waited for the scores that would tell if they had reined in the world champions, and the young women cried as they saw the 10s flash up on the screen.

“When I was young, Fumiko Okuno got a score of 10 for her solo routine. I did not think we could do that in the team that I’m swimming in,” said Rei Jimbo. Okuno scored 10s in her bronze-medal winning solo and duet routines at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.

The silver is Japan’s 17th medal of the Sydney Olympics and also maintains the nation’s unbroken run of winning medals at every synchronized swimming event held at the Olympics since the sport was introduced in Los Angeles in 1984.

It also confirmed the nation’s elevation in the world rankings.

Japan had won bronze in all previous seven Olympic synchronized swimming events held, behind the defending Olympic champions from the U.S., and Canada.

But the former powerhouses in the sport had fallen behind Russia, Japan and France going into this Olympics.

The Russian team of Elena Azarova, Olga Brusnikina, Maria Kisseleva, Olga Novokshchenova, Irina Perchina, Elena Soia, Yulia Vasilieva and Olga Vassioukova were looking to legitimize their status as the world’s best at the Sydney Games.

Japan’s team — Ayano Egami, Raika Fujii, Yoko Isoda, Jimbo, Tachibana, Takeda, Yoko Yoneda and Yuko Yoneda — was in a position to challenge it after Thursday’s technical routine, sitting just .070 points behind the leaders.

Each team had scored a perfect 10 for artistic impression and earned identical artistic scores of 39.600.

But the Russians impressed the judges more with their technique.

Although the Japanese have been steadier and higher out of the water than ever, their routine incorporating karate chops and kicks received 59.000 points for technical merit for a technical routine total of 98.600.

The technical routine counted for 35 percent of the total score. Friday’s free routine counted for 65 percent.

This meant Japan had a weighted score of 34.510 going into the final round Friday.

Russia produced the best technical performance of the day with 98.800 points from a weighted score of 34.580 out of a possible 35.

“From the beginning, we were very confident. We wanted to do the very best we could and we are very happy,” Tachibana said after the technical routine. “We have strong support from the crowd and we want to do our very best.”

On Friday, the Japanese team performed a routine called “The Bird of Wonder” to music by Katsutoshi Narisawa.

The Russians performed a witch-themed routine marked by pace and energy titled “Night on the Bare Mountain” to music by Mussorgsky.