LIMA, Peru – With a new coach, new choreography and perhaps the youngest team in the field with an average age of only 17 years and 8 months, the USA Synchro National Team leaves the Pan American Games Lima 2019 with two bronze medals.
Coming into Lima only a week removed from finishing 12th at world championships in South Korea, Team USA battled the fatigue and jetlag to pull off the bronze-medal feats.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. finished five points behind Canada in the duet free routine to seal third-place. Later that evening, the U.S. was last in the lineup for the team free routine – with the event-favorite Canada performing two slots ahead.
Strutting out confidently to their starting stance with U-S-A chants in the background, the Americans began their robotics-themed routine. Gracefully diving into the water, electronic music pumped in the background as the U.S. prepared to execute the lift of Nicole Groot – a move they had been practicing for the last six months.
For the first time in the young team’s short history, the lift was successfully executed. The feat was met with an audible reaction from the spectators in the nearly-full Videna Aquatic Center.
“It was our most difficult lift in history, and, today, we did it for the first time, so I’m very proud,” head coach and Andrea Fuentes said. “I wanted to show bravery. I don’t want to show that we’re trying – no, I want to show that we go for everything. This is the first step to make the world look at us and then to be afraid of us.”
The squad exited the pool and put their hands around each other’s backs as the final scores were calculated. Upon hearing that the U.S. earned bronze, the team immediately embraced each other, hugging, smiling and celebrating that they were bringing a medal home.
“Our goal wasn’t specifically to get this medal, but to improve as much as we can going into this and have our best swim,” Daniella Ramirez said. “We really peaked at this meet which is what we planned for and wanted so it was a really satisfying feeling to have that happen and play out that way.”
Although the performance was the best one of the season for the U.S., the squad missed out on the qualification spots for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. A first-place finish in the team competition ensured qualification for the duet and team events.
“Of course, we know there’s a qualification goal here, but our goal is to improve little by little and to keep closing the gap to those countries in front of us and do what’s in our control,” Anita Alvarez said. “Keep improving what we need to improve, have our best swims and from there, do what’s in our hands.”
The most decorated aquatics Olympian in Spain’s history, Fuentes is proud of the improvements the team has made, however, the expectations do not end there.
Her goal is to give back to the U.S. by bringing the team to the top. It’s a step-by-step process, and, now that the season is over and the gauge for the team has been measured, trainings will only pick up. Next season begins in February with the final Tokyo 2020 qualification opportunities launching in March and April.
“We know exactly what we need to fix and work on to improve, so hopefully that will increase our chances at qualifiers,” Goot said.
During their time off from 10-hour training sessions, the squad looks forward to having a couple weeks off to rest their bodies and minds to come back to the new season ready to work harder than ever.