"Unlike a team event, in a duet each swimmer's technique is exposed for everyone to see-there's no way to hide a flaw," say Tachibana Miya (front) and Takeda Miho (rear).
Photo by Takahashi Noboru
When two Japanese women won gold medals at the 9th FINA World Swimming Championships in Fukuoka, they made waves in the media. Tachibana Miya and Takeda Miho had set their sights on the gold for some time, and they did it, placing first in the duet finals for synchronized swimming on July 20, 2001.
Until then, Japan's best record in an international synchronized swimming event had been a silver medal at the Sydney Olympics in 2000. The quest for gold was always blocked by the Russian team, said to be number one in the world. But Tachibana and Takeda turned the tables at the 2001 world championships, scoring higher than the Russians in artistic merit.
"The Championships are the world's most prestigious swimming event, and the Russians seemed to be as good as any team could be, so we were thrilled to win the gold."
Tachibana beams happily as she looks back on that day. Takeda is all smiles, too: "For the finals we did a comical pantomime-it was great fun. I was nervous, of course, but I used the stress to our advantage and put personality into the performance."
Tachibana began synchronized swimming when she was 9, Takeda when she was 7. It wasn't long before they were both showing exceptional promise, and by the time they were in their late teens, they were representing Japan. Tachibana's experience and skill place her at the top in Japan, and she has won seven medals at the Olympics and world championships, including this year's event in Fukuoka. She holds Japan's most-medal record for synchronized swimming. Takeda, two years her junior, has excelled as well. In addition to her success in the world championships, she has won three medals-two silver and one bronze-at two Olympic games.
What lies ahead, now that they have achieved so much? Tachibana Miya says, "I'm sure that I can be of more use in the world of synchronized swimming than in anything else. If it hadn't been for this sport, I wouldn't know myself as well as I do now."
Takeda joins in, "Getting the gold doesn't mean I'm at the end of my career. I think of it as a good opportunity to look ahead, to enjoy exploring my options."
Tachibana and Takeda now stand at the top in their chosen sport. But this is not the end of their story-their eyes are on the next major competition, as they announced to the press on September 26, 2001.