Synch Or Swim: Olympic Duet Practices Togetherness

For the first time ever, the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team won’t be at this summer’s Olympics in London. It didn’t qualify to compete. But two of its teammates, who until recently knew only of one another as members of rival club teams in California, are going to London to compete in synchronized swimming duets. They’re preparing to compete against duets that have been together for years and years.

Friday afternoon is a time most young people start thinking about their upcoming night out with friends. But at the Indiana University Natatorium in Indianapolis, 20- and 22-year-old synchronized swimmers Mary Killman and Mariya Koroleva are still hard at work.

While they knew of each other when competing as rivals in the San Francisco Bay Area, Killman and Koroleva didn’t really know each other until they became roommates early last year, training with the national team in Indianapolis.

Last August they were paired to compete just six weeks before the Pan American Games, the first Olympic qualifier. They stunned competitors by taking home a silver medal there.

On the front porch of their small downtown apartment, Koroleva says their early success is encouraging.

“That was our first time swimming together as a duet so I think we just kind of wanted to show … we’re going to be good,” she says. “We just got paired together, you know, we’re on the rise … kind of like, watch out.”

But former Olympic duet competitor Christina Jones says it’s going to take a lot more than spirit and long training hours for the women to do well in London. A competitor in Beijing in 2008, Jones lives in Las Vegas now, performing for Cirque du Soleil. Jones competed with both women on top rival teams in California and says while they faced stiff competition there, it’s entirely different competing on the world stage.

“In countries like China and Russia, girls are pared up from childhood and they are trained specifically for this event,” she says. “The Russian duet in 2008 … Anastasia Ermakova and Anastasia Davydova … were swimming together since they were little, little girls.”

Killman and Koroleva’s coach, Mayuko Fujiki, took home a bronze for her native Japan in 1996 and coached Spain to two silver medals in 2008. She’s encouraging the women to do everything they can to catch up, even if it means being together day in and day out.

“Sometimes you get stressed with another person because you’re 24/7 in the same place and you try to do exactly the same movement with another person eight hours a day,” she says. “But I see the potential they will be a great duet pair in the future for the U.S.”

As they prepare, like it or not, Killman and Koroleva are spending nearly all their time together, trying to mastering their routines.

Eight-hour practices now stretch to 12 hours. In between, they drive together to weight training, yoga, Pilates and to and from their apartment.

“We do go through … our ups and downs, but I feel like we’ve handled it pretty well. You know, I think we both still know that in the end we have to do this together,” Koroleva says.

Both athletes say they know this is the chance of a lifetime and hope all these long days of togetherness will pay off in London.

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