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Russian synchro pair leads technical routine; Americans get fifth

Aug. 18, 2008, 1:39 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) - The Russian synchronized swimming duo of Anastasia Davydova and Anastasia Ermakova returned to international competition Monday and didn't miss a beat.

Davydova and Ermakova performed flawlessly to a Russian public dance tune in the opening session, and led the duet technical routine.

The Russians recorded a score of 49.334 before a full crowd at the Water Cube. Gemma Mengual and Andrea Fuentes of Spain stood second with 48.250 and Saho Harada and Emiko Suzuki of Japan were third with 48.250.

"Our coach wishes to present Russian spirit through our competition at the Olympics," Davydova said. "It's the first time we've used a Russian melody at the Olympics and we were surprised to see that the Spanish team also chose Russian music."

With the Russians absent, Mengual and Fuentes won the Olympic qualifying tournament in April.

Mengual also swept the solo and duet (with Fuentes) titles at the European Championships in March, but the Spanish synchro standout has never won an Olympic medal.

"In all the competitions that we attended, they didn't win," Davydova said. "In Europe, the Spanish team is very strong, but overall the Russian team is better."

Davydova and Ermakova, the defending Olympic champions, had not performed in international competition since winning at the world championships in Melbourne, Australia, last year.

Japan has medaled in synchro in every Olympics since the discipline was introduced at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, and Harada and Suzuki are in position to extend that trend.

Coached by Masayo Imura of Japan, identical twins Jiang Tingting and Jiang Wenwen of China stood fourth with 48.084 points, a slight disappointment after placing second in the qualifying tournament.

"Their movement was not synchronized. The element were OK, though," Imura said. "That was mediocre."

Using music composed by Elton John, the American pair Christina Jones and Andrea Nott placed fifth with 47.750.

"We did different hybrids that were not required before each element and after each element," Jones said. "That makes it so much more difficult. Hopefully it pays off.

"Our theme was anger. We tried to get that across."

The duet free routine preliminary round is scheduled for Tuesday, with the top 12 ranked pairs advancing to Wednesday's final.

"We're taking a risk. We have nothing to lose," Jones said. "Our free routine is off the wall. Nothing like this has ever been done before."