The U.S. Synchronized Swimming team will be seeking gold medals at the Beijing Olympics after winning events last year at the Pan American Games. As VOA's Jim Stevenson reports, the youthful U.S. squad is also hoping to continue its success from the 2006 world championships, where a surprise victory put the Americans among the elite teams in the sport.
Synchronized Swimming, in which participants perform routines in the pool to music, has been a full medal sport in the Olympics since 1984. Americans have performed well through the years, winning a total of nine medals in solo, duet and team. The solo event is no longer on the Olympic program. The U.S. women earned both duet and team bronze medals four years ago at the Athens Olympics.
At age 27, Kim Probst is the oldest member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team for Synchronized Swimming. She serves as Co-Captain along with 23-year-old Kate Hooven. Probst boasts 20 years of experience in the sport and has made the National Team 10 times. Her start was simple.
"I was about six or seven. My mom just signed me up one day. And I was hooked. I have been doing it ever since. And I started speed swimming after the fact for cross training," she said.
Kate Hooven was inspired by previous Olympians.
"I had actually never heard of synchronized swimming until the 1996 (Atlanta) Olympics when the (U.S.) team won gold. And I saw it and wanted to do it. And I started at a recreational program. And I have been doing it ever since," she said.
That enthusiasm has choreographed a steady rise in the status of the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team. Team USA claimed Olympic berths by winning gold medals in both the duet and team events at the 2007 Pan American Games in Brazil.
With an average age of just over 22 years, the U.S. team is considered young. But it was able to shake up the medal stand at the 2006 FINA World Trophy Cup. The U.S. women dazzled the judges with their free combination performance to knock off top-ranked Russia. The win marked the first time any country had defeated the Russians in the team or combination events since the 1996 Olympic Games.
Probst says the U.S. success will make the Olympic competition wide open.
"Anything can happen. Russia had never lost a gold medal since 1997 until we beat them in 2006. So, they are the team to beat. But if anybody can do it, I think it is us."
One of the main concerns heading into the Beijing Games has been the polluted air that often chokes the capital city. But Hooven says her team should be somewhat immune to the problem. "We are competing in an indoor facility. So we are hoping that even if it is a little bit bad, we are all in the same boat, everybody will be having the same issues," she said.
With a level playing field, the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team is hoping its unique preparation will push it to the top of the medal podium in Beijing. The U.S. women have worked with a variety of experts in a number of areas to improve upon fitness levels and technique. They have also sought an edge through the expertise of gymnasts, contortionists, acrobatics and lift experts, cheerleading coaches, mimes, pilates instructors and even Cirque du Soleil performers.