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Russia aims to complete 4th straight synchro sweep

Friday - 8/10/2012, 12:23am  ET

By ANDREW DAMPF
AP Sports Writer

LONDON (AP) - Four sweeps in four consecutive Olympics: That's the goal for Russia Friday in the free routine of the synchronized swimming team event.

Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina already secured gold for Russia in the duet event at the London Games, and the Russians lead the team event following Thursday's technical routines.

"Everybody expects us to win gold and it is a lot of pressure," Romashina said. "They also forget that silver and bronze are medals, too."

Silver and bronze, however, are usually reserved for Russia's challengers _ or rather, fellow competitors.

Russia has swept gold in both the duet and team event at the last three games, and also has seven world titles in the team event.

However, Russia holds a slim 1.1-point lead over China entering the free routine.

"In the duets they are doing really well, so we expect them to be good in the teams too," Romashina said. "When we see them training we see some mistakes, but we're obviously looking out for them as they're getting better and better."

Russia collected a near-perfect 98.1 points in the technical routine, China was next with 97.0 points and Spain stood third with 96.2 points.

The United States, which last won the team event in 1996, did not qualify.

Four years ago in Beijing, Russia won ahead of Spain and China. That was also the finishing order for the duet at these games.

"Tomorrow we will be better than the Chinese, although they are technically very strong, and we have a good surprise lined up," Spain's Alba Cabello said. "We will be like mermaids in the ocean."

On Thursday, Russia competed to an upbeat Russian dance routine composed by Denis Garnizov, as Prince William's wife, the former Kate Middleton, looked on from the crowd.

"It was a brand new routine and we've only been working on it for a year," Russia's Elvira Khasyanova said. "We think it contained all the necessary elements. ... We are obviously very pleased with the score."

Meanwhile, Canada and Australia played to the British crowd with soccer and Beatles tributes.

Canada's swimmers wore soccer balls on their suits and caps and simulated goal-scoring kicks as they dove into the water. Australia's athletes swam to a "Back in the USSR" remix and had Kremlin motifs on their suits.

Russia's sparkling suits were classical red and gold _ the color they expect to have hanging around their necks on Friday.

"We aim to make the costumes as impressive as possible, and to unite the music, the choreography and the costumes," Khasyanova said.

Russia's other team members are Anastasia Davydova, Maria Gromova, Daria Korobova, Alexandra Patskevich, Alla Shishkina and Anzhelika Timanina.

Medals will be handed out after Friday's free routines, with points from both days added up.

Canada stands fourth with 94.4 points and Japan is fifth with 93.8.

Canada _ clearly playing to the soccer-loving British crowd _ wore caps that looked like soccer balls. The team had to get special approval from swimming governing body FINA to make sure they didn't break the "no accessories" rule, which doesn't permit competitors to sport anything but hair adornments on their head.

Britain, competing in the team event for the first time _ with an automatic qualification as the host _ finished sixth, ahead of Egypt and Australia.

"This is just a stepping stone towards Rio," Britain's Olivia Federici said, looking ahead to the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games. "We hope that we'll be peaking and rooting for a medal."

Besides raucous support from the home crowd, Kate, now known formally as the Duchess of Cambridge, also cheered on the British swimmers.

"We knew a few days ago that she was coming," Britain's Yvette Baker said. "It's really exciting for us to have someone with such a high profile come and watch our sport."


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)