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US Synchronized Swimming Team Aims for Gold in Athens - 2004-01-28

The U.S. synchronized swimming team is gearing up for the Olympics this summer in Athens, Greece. Having won medals in its last two international competitions, team USA is looking to continue its success with the duet team of Anna Kozlova and Alison Bartosik leading the way.

Anna Kozlova and Alison Bartosik are a part of a nine-woman squad looking to return U.S. synchronized swimming to the podium at the Olympics.

The team captured the bronze medal last July at the (FINA) World Championships. There, the duet performance by Kozlova and Bartosik fell just short of a medal, finishing fourth. But the following month the two won the duet gold medal at the Pan Am games in the Dominican Republic. They also won gold in the eight-woman team competition.

The success is uplifting for a team rebounding from a fifth place finish at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. After the 1996 Atlanta games, the team was faced with the retirement of many of its top performers.

The former Russian-Olympian Kozlova is the only member of the 2000 U.S. team that is returning to aim for a medal in 2004. U.S. head coach Chris Carver believes that this year's team members have qualities that can return them to the Olympic podium.

"Every team is like a new recipe, and I think this one seriously has a lot of the ingredients for success. It's a team with that kind of indefinable characteristic that I think makes a champion, and that is they have this immense American drive and spirit," he said. "They're very cohesive, they get along very well, but they are also up for hard work, so I think that we are going to see some really good things out of this group."

The so-called "ingredients" to the new synchronized swimming team besides Kozlova and Bartosik, are Tammy Crow, Erin Dobratz, Becky Jasontek, Sara Lowe, Lauren McFall, Stephanie Nesbitt, and Kendra Zanotto. Crow, Zanotto, and Dobratz were the final three additions to the team. Dobratz and Zanotto swam for the U.S. teams at last year's Pan Am games and World Championships.

Newcomer Dobratz looks to help the squad rejoin the current powers in the synchronized swimming world. She believes that teams like Canada, Japan, and Russia - which took the 2000 Olympic medals in that order - are in for some fierce competition in Athens.

"As far as history goes, our biggest competition is Japan and Russia," she said. "They're currently ranked first and second. And we've been really working; watching videos to learn what their strengths and their weaknesses are so that we can really strategize how we can show that we're better."

The U.S. synchronized swimming team has won four golds and two silver medals since the sport was added to the summer games calendar in 1984. Americans have won medals in the sport at every Olympics before the 2000 Sydney games.

The two Olympic synchronized swimming events - team and duet - consist of both technical and free routines set to music. The performances are judged on technical merit and artistical impression.

When synchronized swimming joined the Olympic schedule in 1984, it included a solo and a duet performance. Both were replaced with a single team competition in 1996. The duet performance was restored in 2000. Teams are awarded marks on execution, synchronization, degree of difficulty and artistic impression.

As one of the first teams to have their roster set for Athens, the Americans see time as a key asset on their side. Team captain Lauren McFall is pleased with the extra time her squad gets to work together. In a sport as precise as synchronized swimming, it takes a lot of practice.

"I think with synchronized swimming, we are the epitome of a team sport, and we need that time to gel as a team," she said. "Team chemistry is really what makes or breaks a team, and we decided as a group that we wanted to know who the nine athletes were early on."

Team USA is anxious to get a chance at returning the glory to a team that has traditionally dominated its sport. For now, Lauren McFall and the synchronized swimming team are working on their routines to limit any chance at making mistakes en route to a hoped for Olympic gold medal.