Russian water queens aim to maintain duets legacy

With their reign as Olympic champions set to continue until Rio de Janeiro, Russia's synchronised swimming duets coach Tatiana Danchenko has said the challenge now is to maintain the legacy.

Russia won their fourth consecutive duets title on Tuesday after Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina's dazzling display earned gold with a final score of 197.100pts, which saw them finish four points clear of the field.

Russia have won both the team and duets titles at every Olympics since duets returned to the Games programme for Sydney 2000 and can complete another sweep of the synchronised medals when the team event starts on Thursday.

The iron grip on the duets crown started with Olga Brusnikina and Maria Kisseleva's gold in Sydney, then compatriots Anastasia Davydova and Anastasia Ermakova took the title at both Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008.

Having arrived in London with the weight of 12 years of Russian success behind them, Ishchenko admitted the pair felt obliged, rather than just expected, to win the gold.

"Of course we were under pressure, we tried not to read any newspapers or listen to the news on the radio. We tried to forget about everything, because people seemed to have already hung medals around our necks," said Ishchenko.

"It was scary, we just focused on doing our best and getting the right result."

With the duets gold secured, the challenge remains to repeat the feat in four years' time in Rio, but with other nations eager to copy Russia's success, Danchenko insists their rivals are catching up fast.

"God forbid and save us from a defeat, but if we stay in one place, repeat ourselves or, worse, rest on our laurels this would lead to failure," she said.

"Our competition are working and training hard. They want to unseat us."

As double world, and now Olympic, champions, Ishchenko says the Russian pair put in up to 10 hours of training per day in the gym and pool as it took a year to prepare their gold medal-winning programme.

"Our success we can explain by the fact we are trained by experts: all the other countries are vying (to recruit) them," she said.

"Without our coach, we wouldn't get the results.

"We don't want to reveal our secrets, but to stay upside down on your head underwater is no joke."

Despite synchronised swimming's huge Olympic success, it is well down the pecking order of popular sports back home.

"I can't even say the sport is popular in Russia, it's not as popular as football or ice hockey, but a lot of children like it and it's in quite a few schools," said Ishchenko.

"Of course, we want the sport to be more popular."

Her partner Romashina added: "The schools that go in for it are in large cities, but in the towns and villages, people don't know much about it."

After their Spanish pair produced a near-flawless display to grab silver by just 0.030pts from China, Romashina says seeing their rivals improving year by year simply fuels the champions' desire to stay on top.

"Our rivals don't just want to catch us up, they want to overtake us and this gives us a new impetus to work harder," she said.

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