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2008 Summer Olympic Games Preview - Synchronized Swimming

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Synchronized Swimming, the event originally known as water ballet, will make its sixth appearance as a medal sport this year at the Summer Olympics.

Since making its debut as a medal sport at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, 33 medals have been awarded in synchronized swimming. Japan has the most medals with 11, but has never won gold in the sport. The United States has garnered the most gold medals with five and Russia is close behind with four.

All told, just five countries have earned medals in synchronized swimming. In addition to the nations mentioned above, France and Canada have also taken home hardware in this event.

There are two medal events within synchronized swimming, as countries compete in both team and duet segments. Both formats include a technical and free routine. Judges score routines on a 100-point scale with points being awarded for artistic impression (60-percent) and technical merit (40-percent).

Synchronized Swimming features two panels with five judges on each side, one to tally technical scores and the other to concentrate on artistic impression. Technical merit is judged based on criteria such as execution of strokes, difficulty for strokes and synchronization.

Choreography, music interpretation and manner of presentation combine to add up to a total artistic score.

Eight nations will compete in the team event at the 2008 Games and Russia once again appears to be the favorite heading into Beijing. The Russians have won gold in the team segment in each of the last two Olympics and have also taken the last five world championships.

The Japanese have been second to Russia in synchronized swimming for some time now and are one of the favorites heading into this summer's competition.

However, China is also on the rise in the sport and finished fourth at the 2007 world championships and hope to medal in the event for the first time ever at the Beijing Games. The Chinese are coached by Masayo Imura, the legendary Japanese synchronized swimming instructor.

The world's best duet pairing of Anastasia Davydova and Anastasia Ermakovain are, not surprisingly, from Russia. The Muscovites are the defending Olympic gold medalists and also took first at last year's world championships.

The Japanese won silver in the duets at the last two Olympics, but the winning tandem from those Games, Miya Tachibana and Miho Takeda, have since retired. Saho Harada and Emiko Suzuki have become the top duo from Japan, but they finished third at the last two world championships, finishing behind Gemma Mengual and Paola Tirados of Spain.

The top team for the U.S. at the Beijing Games will be the pairing of Andrea Nott and Christina Jones. The California duo won the duet competition at the Pan American Games, but the squad finished a disappointing fifth at the 2007 world championships.

Jones is just 20 years old, but has been competing in synchronized swimming since the age of six and is one of the bright spots on an inexperienced American squad. In fact, Nott is the only U.S. synchronized swimmer returning from the squad in Athens that won bronze in the team competition.

Synchronized swimming competition will take place at the National Aquatic Center, which has been affectionately nicknamed the "Water Cube".

07/17 14:03:05 ET

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