AP Sports Writer
LONDON (AP) - Russia set itself apart from the competition yet again at the London Olympics, winning the team synchronized swimming for its fourth consecutive gold medal in the event.
The Russians showed why they've been the sport's dominant power since the 1998 world championships. Their height, speed, legwork and synchronization in the pool is far superior to anything the rest of the world is doing.
And don't think other countries don't realize it.
"We are still some distance from Russia. They will be our targets in the future for a long while," China coach Zhang Xiaolei said. "Maybe gold will be our long-term aim. Russia is our motivation."
The Russians earned 98.930 points for a team free routine on Friday that featured swimmers doing acrobatic flips and pirouetting like ballerinas above the water. Having already won the team technical competition, they totaled 197.030.
"I am very happy that we managed to get the result with the girls and that we carried on the tradition of synchronized swimming," Anastasia Davydova said through a translator.
The team of Davydova, Maria Gromova, Natalia Ishchenko, Elvira Khasyanova, Alexandra Patskevich, Svetlana Romashina, Anzhelika Timanina and Alla Shishkina swam in black, red and gold suits featuring a spider web design on the back.
"The theme was a lost world like a big spider's net," Patskevich said. "We wanted people to get the goosebumps."
The Russians swam, flipped and kicked their way through the songs "War" and "Step" by Denis Garnizov.
Davydova became the most successful swimmer in the sport with her fifth gold medal, including three in the team event. Her teammates Gromova and Khasyanova also earned their third gold medals in the team competition.
"This was the hardest medal for me to win and the happiest," Davydova said. "I finish my career on a peak."
She plans to retire and get started on developing the next generation of young Russian swimmers as a coach beginning in September.
"We train children from three years of age at school," Davydova said in explaining her country's success in a sport that uses nose clips, hair gel and dramatic makeup. "By 15 they are already ahead and competing."
Ishchenko and Romashina claimed their second gold medals of these games after winning the synchro duet event.
With Russia a virtual lock for gold, it was left to China and Spain to swim for silver. The U.S. didn't qualify for the team event.
China took second at 194.010, edging Spain by 0.89 points. The Spanish settled for the bronze at 193.120 four years after winning silver in Beijing.
Wearing hot pink, purple and white suits, the Chinese marched in lockstep onto the deck. With their dramatic "Butterfly" music under way, they flipped one swimmer in the air.
Moments later, another swimmer was flipped horizontally, and she rolled multiple times like a log before hitting the water. Two swimmers flipped in opposite directions, drawing cheers and a score of 97.010 for their free routine.
"That was the best performance ever," swimmer Jiang Tingting said. "We have been training for so many years and we have been through a lot of things. We have been working very hard, we have overcome a lot of injuries, and we have made it."
China earlier won the bronze in synchro duet.
The Spanish wore silver-sequined suits and matching caps resembling fish scales that shimmered in and out of the water.
Spain was so eager to win a medal that all of the team's swimmers cut their hair above their shoulders in a good-luck ritual a night earlier.
Spain coach Elisabet Fernandez said it took an hour for the nine swimmers to get into their suits and special glue was used to adhere the suits and caps to their skin.
Spain's two biggest moves involved one swimmer diving over the top of another who formed a bridge with her back fully arched out of the water _ supported by four swimmers _ and a swimmer who appeared to be walking on water as the others held her up from underneath. The team imitated dolphins, sharks and waves during the ocean creatures-themed routine that earned 96.920.
"We were very happy to have the bronze. We didn't expect to get silver," swimmer Thais Henriquez said. "The routine went very well and we were very pleased to have achieved our objectives. What we wanted to do was to make the team shine."
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)