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Tuesday, September 26
Lowest finish ever for U.S.

SYDNEY, Australia -- The Olympic pool resembled a Vegas showroom, with enough glittery costumes, sequined head pieces and hair gel to make Esther Williams proud.

But while Americans popularized synchronized swimming -- through Williams' performances at the 1940 World's Fair and in the movies -- the rest of the world has caught up.

The U.S. pair of Anna Kozlova and Tuesday Middaugh settled for fourth in the duet competition Tuesday behind a near-perfect Russian duo and teams from Japan and France.

It was the first time the United States finished lower than second since synchronized swimming became part of the Olympics in 1984. Americans had won five golds and two silvers in that span.

"This is our first international competition ever," said the Russian-born Kozlova, who became a U.S. citizen less than a year ago. "You earn your ranking all the time. There's a lot of subjectivity. We didn't see any mistakes."

Russians Olga Brusnikina and Maria Kisseleva used a karate routine performed to the beat of Japanese drums to defeat a team from Japan.

Brusnikina and Kisseleva picked up all 10s for artistic impression, while their technical marks were marred by a lone 9.9 from the Japanese judge. They totaled 99.580 points.

Russia hasn't lost a duet since 1997.

"The Russians prepare so well from the time they are children," Kozlova said. "They practice for very long hours, all year round."

Miya Tachibana and Miho Takedo took silver with 98.650, earning straight 9.9s from the judges. Virginie Dedieu and Myriam Lignot of France claimed bronze at 97.437.

"We did our best to challenge the Russians," Tachibana said. "During the crucial section, we got our legs tangled. We had a little trouble."

Kozlova and Middaugh, performing at a half-filled Sydney International Aquatic Center, wore sequined, flaming-red suits to match their music from "Carmen."

"We love it," said Middaugh, of Riverside, Calif. "We did a lot of research to portray the different faces and attitudes of Carmen."

But the Americans failed to move up after beginning the final in fourth place, settling for marks ranging from 9.6 to 9.8 for a 96.990 total.

The free program counted for 65 percent of the total mark. It was added to the technical results from Sunday.

Kozlova also placed fourth competing for the Unified team at the 1992 Barcelona Games. She was in her first major championship since becoming eligible for the American team.

Kozlova came to Santa Clara, Calif., in 1993 for the wedding of an American swimmer. She decided to stay, finally gaining her citizenship last October.

Middaugh, who will also compete in the team competition, was fortunate to be swimming at all. She had emergency back surgery on two herniated discs in February and still endures pain. She's also gone through four knee operations, including one for a damaged anterior cruciate ligament.

Kisseleva's presence in the Olympics was accompanied by controversy: She was stripped of her European duet title after failing a doping test July 21.

The infraction carried a possible three-month suspension, but the Russian federation made her sit out only a month. That allowed her to compete in Sydney.

Officials said the lighter penalty was fair because the banned substance, ephedrine, was included in a supplement to control Kisseleva's weight and gave her no advantage in the pool.


U.S. pair advance to synchronized swim final

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