U.S. brings home bronze in synchronized swimming
MELBOURNE, Australia -- Russia remained the dominant force in synchronized swimming, claiming another team title at the world championships while the Americans rallied to finish third Sunday night.
Russia won the free combination title with a near-perfect score of 99.000 points, easily beating runner-up Japan (97.833). The United States took its first medal of the championships, capturing bronze at 96.500.
The U.S. team leapfrogged Spain, which was third entering the final but dropped a spot when a disappointing routine earned a score of 96.334.
"Beijing is calling," U.S. leader Andrea Nott said, looking ahead to next year's Olympics. "Everything is building toward that."
In their glittering turquoise suits, the Russians dazzled the sparse crowd at Rod Laver Arena with a series of flips and complex choreography during a routine that lasted just under 5 minutes.
The Russians received one perfect 10 in technical merit and another in artistic impression. Their remaining scores were a series of 9.9s, except a lone 9.7 for their artistic performance.
The winning team was led by the two Anastasias: Davydova and Ermakova, who also were top qualifiers in the duet technical event.
This is the first year that FINA has awarded medals in both technical and free combination events, but the Russians left little doubt that they are still the top team -- no matter the format.
"The split has made judging non-objective," Ermakova said. "When one medal involves both the technical and creative aspects, it makes for a more difficult performance, and a more realistic judgment. This is obviously just a way to take medals away from the Russians."
Russia won the team title at the last four worlds, in addition to capturing Olympic gold at Sydney and Athens. Their last major international defeat was a fourth-place showing at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
The U.S. team, a former power in the sport, devised an innovative new routine to challenge Russia dominance after taking bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
"I don't really see the team as going through a rebuilding phase as much as simply a building phase," Nott said. "We have some young ones, and this is their first competition, but hopefully we have been helping them through and making it easier for them."
The Americans had a breakthrough victory at the 2006 Synchro World Trophy using moves designed by choreographer Stephan Miermont, a former member of Cirque de Soleil who wanted to showcase the women's acrobatic skills and fluid movements.
"It incorporated a lot of new ideas and had some interesting transitions," Nott said. "We think we laid down the challenge because now we see the other teams with new and interesting transitions too."
Earlier Sunday, French star Virginie Dedieu made a dazzling return to the pool in the solo free preliminaries.
With only four months to prepare for the world championships after coming out of retirement, Dedieu scored three 10s and finished with an overall score of 99.000 points.
A routine based on the life of opera star Maria Callas positioned her as the top qualifier for Thursday's final.
"It was good at the beginning, even though I think there were still a few technical flaws in it that I'd like to get rid of in the final," Dedieu said. "It's one of the most difficult routines I've ever swum. But I've chosen it because of the personality of Maria Callas."
The 28-year-old Dedieu captured the world championship at Montreal two years ago, then left the sport to pursue interior design. She announced her return in November and is going for an unprecedented third straight solo gold medal.
Russia's Natalia Ischenko (98.500) was second in the preliminaries, followed by Spain's Gemma Mengual Civil (97.667) and Christina Jones of the United States (95.333). The top 12 advanced to the final.
Dedieu also was part of the French team that finished sixth in the free combination final.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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