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Synchronized Anastasias of Russia close in on gold; American duo gets fifth

Aug. 19, 2008, 3:11 p.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) - The only time Anastasia Davydova and Anastasia Ermakova need to hold their breath is underwater. There's simply no suspense when it comes to their scores. The Russian synchronized swimmers are far superior to the rest of the world.

That was evident in Tuesday's duet free preliminary competition. Davydova and Ermakova totaled 98.834 points, maintaining the lead they owned after Monday's technical routine.

The top 12 teams advanced to Wednesday's final.

The Russian women who are synchronized down to their first names have returned to international competition for the first time since last year's world championships in Australia, where they - no surprise - won the gold. They also claimed world titles in 2001, 2003 and 2005.

Russia has had the duet and team titles locked up since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

That means everyone else is likely swimming for silver and bronze.

Gemma Mengual and Andrea Fuentes of Spain were second with 97.918. The European champions are going for their country's first Olympic synchro medal.

Japan's Saho Harada and Emiko Suzuki were third at 96.750, followed by China at 96.584.

Japan is the only country to earn a synchro medal in every Olympics, but never the gold.

Americans Christina Jones and Andrea Nott were fifth at 95.500.

"It is hard to move up. That's why every year we try to push the envelope even more," said Nott, a reserve on the 2004 Olympic team.

Jones and Nott developed their free routine to Mozart's "Lacrimosa" by working with a former Cirque du Soleil choreographer.

"We gave everything we could," Nott said. "We had nothing left at the end to possibly give. We just risked everything."

Davydova and Ermakova devoted more than a year to perfecting their 3-minute, 34-second routine to "Peer Gynt Suite."

"This routine is very difficult in breath control," Davydova said. "We need to hold our breath for at most 30 seconds. After that we can breathe once or twice, and then immediately hold our breath again for 18 seconds."

Shouts of "China" greeted the home country's duo of twin sisters Jiang Tingting and Jiang Wenwen. They marched in unison onto the flower-bedecked, blue-carpeted deck, dove in and kicked, twirled and toe-pointed their way to music called "Flying."

The sisters used their long, thin legs to form a square during the routine, a move usually requiring four people.

Sparkling in white, green and gold suits, with matching headpieces, the twins returned to the deck and awaited their marks. They acknowledged the loud cheers inside the packed Water Cube with matching hand gestures.

"Their personalities are similar. They go along with each other," China's coach Masayo Imura said. "If one of them was to say, 'I have a stomach ache,' the other would follow, saying, 'Me too.'"

China has never finished higher than sixth in synchronized swimming at the Olympics.

"I want China to achieve a good result as the host country," Imura said. "They made a big decision to invite a coach from Japan. I would like to live up to their expectations."