Fri, September 20, 2013

Canada's sweet synchro swimmers toughen up for Olympics

By ALAIN BERGERON, QMI Agency


Elise Marcotte will help lead the Canadian synchronized swimming team against its Olympic rivals, starting Sunday. (QMI Agency)

LONDON - The sweetest girls outside of the pool completely changed once in the water.

Julie Sauve and the synchronized swimming team launched a psychological war against their main rivals, then took a French leave.

Keeping their entries and costumes a secret, as is the usual strategy before such important events, the nine members of the Canadian team — all from Quebec — did reveal three of the four programs they will attempt when the competition starts Sunday.

Sauve gave her athletes specific instructions so as to wow the Russians, the Chinese and the Spanish, something along the lines of: “Let them know what will hit them.”

“I told the girls to go on the attack. As in poker, I told them ‘all-in,’” the coach admitted, revealing her hand.

With limited time in the main pool, Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon and Elise Marcotte presented their technical duet routine, before reuniting with the team of eight for the technical and free routines. We heard the music and saw the choreographies. We discovered what was, until that point, cautiously hidden.

It felt like the Cold War all over again, in this world surprises. A culture of secrecy reigns here. On June 16th, in Montreal’s Olympic pool, about 1,200 synchronized swimming insiders saw the routines the Quebec athletes will use in London to impress the judges. No image got out, be it on YouTube or on other social networks, as Synchro Canada blocked anyone from entering with cameras, cellphones, iPads or other gadgets.

Anyone caught broadcasting images would be liable to prosecution, the federation warned.

Thursday, part of the mystery flew toward the enemies, along with a touch of confidence and arrogance.

“We still finished fourth (in the 2008 Beijing Games), but we have to give it our all,” says Sauvé.

All the heavyweights “played in each other’s head,” as the experts would say. Surprisingly, the level of competition seems to reassure the coach as well as her girls.

“What makes me confident is that I went to China to spy on them. I taped their program. I told myself: ‘They must have improved or changed some of their programs.’

“When I saw them swim, I did not notice anything new. I’m sorry to say that they did not swim as well as before.”

That sums it up for the Chinese, bronze medallists in 2008 and second in the 2011 world championships, both in duet and in team.

“I watched the Spanish. I saw that their best swimmer is injured and that she did not swim. She was on the side and I think she hurt her back. I saw her cry. I felt bad for her, but one of mine has a cracked foot (Valerie Welsh) and she still competed,” she said.

While we’re talking about it, what’s the buzz on the Russians, majestic in Beijing four years ago?

“You know who your friends are. People came to me saying: ‘Canada, wow! You’re good enough for the podium’. My best friend is Russian...”

Marcotte and Boudreau-Gagnon (swimming in duet on Sunday) stayed, but their seven teammates left for Sheffield Thursday morning, two hours away from London by train, in first class, so as to perfect their routines.

They know better than anyone that the only relevant ranking is the one they’ll achieve next Friday, when it’s all over