Svetlana Romashina: "We try to make artistic swimming look easy, but it's not."

The five-time Olympic gold medallist admits missing her daughter while at training camp, but doesn't totally rule out appearing at Paris 2024 after having another child.
By Ekaterina Kuznetsova

At Rio 2016, Svetlana Romashina took her tally to five Olympic titles from three Games.

That would be enough for most athletes, particularly in a sport as demanding as artistic swimming, but Romashina wants more.

Having taking a break after Rio to give birth to her daughter Alexandra, Romashina made a winning return to competitive action in April 2019.

Now the 30-year-old has her sights set on a fourth Games and at least one more gold medal.

Speaking exclusively to Olympic Channel, Romashina opens up about the retirement of partner, friend, and fellow five-time Olympic champion Natalia Ishchenko, and working with new partner Svetlana Kolesnichenko.

In the interview, which is featured in the Olympic Channel Podcast, she also reveals her thoughts on retiring after the Tokyo Games, how she hopes to help increase her sport's popularity, and who her favourite figure skaters are.

Svetlana Romashina at the 2019 World Aquatics Championships in Gwangju, South Korea

Olympic Channel [OC]: Hi Svetlana. How and when did you start artistic swimming? And how did it all happen for you?

Svetlana Romashina [SR]: I started synchronised swimming when I was six years old. I was a little girl and I didn't know anything about synchro because it wasn't popular in my country and I just tried to swim. We didn't think about synchro.

But after that, my coach decided that I need to try. Maybe synchro, maybe swimming. And I think it was like just a moment when I went to synchro, because we have a building with two swimming pools, one for swimming and one for synchro.

Maybe it's like destiny. Yes, I think so. And after that, I begin the synchro. And when I was 10 years old, my coach went to another country, to Greece. And I had to make a choice - to swim or not. Because at this moment, I was also dancing. That's why I needed to make a decision. And I decided to swim.

OC: So you chose swimming over dancing. What was the main factor?

SR: I didn't like my partner in dancing (laughs). It was ballet dancing.

I remember I thought that synchronised swimming was a solo sport. But I was wrong. I didn't know about the duet, I didn't know about team. And I didn't think that it would be difficult. And of course, my mother wanted me to move to another coach. From that time, from the age of 10, I trained with Tatyana Danchenko and we've worked together for 20 years - I think it's a great result.

OC: You're a five-time Olympic champion. That's crazy to even imagine. Does it ever get boring to win at this point for you?

SR: I don't think it's boring to win. No, I like it. I like these feelings and I like to listen the Russian anthem and see the Russian flag.

"I love synchro. It's my life. It's my job. And I think that I have a strong character and I prefer to win, not to lose. And I know that I will do anything to win." - Svetlana Romashina to Olympic Channel.

OC: Looking back to Beijing (2008], London [2012[, Rio [2016]... how do you think you have changed through all these Olympic Games, through this journey?

SR: Before, I was very emotional. I was more emotional than now. I could argue with the coach, but I try not to do this now. I think it all changed after I gave birth. It depends on my age, on my experience. But I think that in synchro, you become stronger because you become stronger mentally. You begin to think faster and it helps so much.

OC: What is the main lesson that artistic swimming has taught you in life?

SR: I understood that you must never give up. I think that you may use it in all your life, not just in sport, not just in synchro, because I had two surgeries and after that I recovered very fast and I understood that you can do anything. You just need to think about it. You just need to have your goal to move.

OC: You won gold at the last two Games with Natalia Ishchenko, who is now retired. What was it like to change partner and how is it different now working with Svetlana Koleshnichenko?

SR: I think that Natalia and Svetlana are a little bit similar in their characters. Of course, they're different. It's a very big difference to work with them. Of course, I miss Natalia. I miss her so much. I miss her because sometimes I thought that she was my sister and she's in my soul. Of course, we always call each other. We always text each other and sometimes we visit each other.

But when Natalia retired I understood that she would never come back. Maybe because of age and… She was very tired and I understood that I need to go my own way. I had already swam with Svetlana so I knew that it would not be very difficult for me because I know her.

She's a very good synchro swimmer and she's also a good person. And now I'm very comfortable. But, of course, I miss Natalia as my friend, and my partner also.

OC: When Natalia said she was retiring, why did you decide to continue? What was your main motivation?

SR: I understood before the Rio Olympic Games that Natalia would retire. I saw that it was a little bit difficult for her as she missed her baby son. And now I understand her because I am on a sports base and I don't see my baby. I don't see my daughter. And it's the most difficult thing for me because I am an athlete and I am a mother. And if someone will tell me to choose, I think that I will choose to be a mother first.

But when we were at the Rio Closing Ceremony, we saw that it was great. It was the great entertainment of Tokyo I thought of. And I turned my head to Natalia and I told her: "We need to go there. Maybe we will go as athletes, maybe we will go as coaches, but we need to go there.

After I gave birth. I understood that I needed to come back. I was very tired of sitting at home. It's very difficult work to be a mother. And I understood that I wanted to swim and I wanted to win again. I wanted to feel this. And I think it's like a drug for an athlete - adrenaline. And I want to feel this again and again. And now I feel very comfortable when I'm swimming. It's not a problem for me to not swim for two more years.

OC: Did you ever feel restricted by your sport? And did you ever feel like stopping artistic swimming because of this rebellious character in you?

SR: I never felt restricted. No. I had some thoughts, of course, to retire. But it's not just about the rules. It’s only when I felt very tired.

OC: The Games are being postponed for one more year. How did this news affect you?

SR: You know, I can't say that I was shocked. I understood why the Olympic Games would be postponed. I felt it.

Of course, I wanted to go to Tokyo in 2020. I was very upset about this, but we all understand that the most important thing in our life is our health.

I just needed time to think about my sports career. I didn't know what to do - to swim or not to swim or.... Because I had other plans. After the Olympic Games I want to have one more baby, I want to work and… two months for me, it was enough time to think. And now I am training. I am practicing and I feel that I can do it. Of course, I hope that I'll go to the Olympic Games. Of course, it depends on the courts. That will be in November (when Russia's appeal against WADA sanctions including no Russian flag at Tokyo 2020 is heard by CAS). But we keep our fingers crossed and we hope that we will have no problems.

OC: If the Tokyo experience goes well then you can have another child and come back to Paris 2024...

SR: Everyone tells me that I can do this. I can give birth and I can return again. But, of course, it's just a joke. And I understand that it will be very difficult. That's why I think that I will retire after the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

OC: But you never know, there is always a possibility...

SR: Yes, I know. I never know what the future will hold.

OC: What about your daughter Alexandra? Does she want to start artistic swimming? Can you see a career for her in this field or would you prefer her to choose something else?

SR: Oh, I think that it's the most difficult question for me about my daughter. What to do, where to go… I can say that Alexandra likes to swim. Of course, she likes water. She wanted to have such a beautiful swimsuit. I made it for her. But she also likes ice hockey because our father likes hockey. She also likes football - we play football, hockey and many and other games. But I see my daughter playing tennis and maybe she will be like Serena Williams. And I would like this. But whether she goes into sport or not will be her choice. She will study. And it's not a problem. I will help her in any way.

OC: What would you say is the hardest thing about your sport?

SR: Synchro features all kinds of sports in it. It features swimming, diving, acrobatics, ballet, and many other kinds of sport elements. Sometimes it's a pity for me when people say that our sport is not sport and that it's not so difficult. No, these people are wrong. It's very difficult. And I just want to say to them to try it, just to try, just to swim with a nose clip and just to try something with your legs up.

I just tell them: "Try to swim, not to go to the bottom. And you need to remember that you need to smile all the time." Because everyone thinks that it's very easy, because we are always smiling and I can say that we work at the smiles for many, many years. We try to make it look easy. But it's not easy.

OC: Is it more difficult for you to do the technical part or the artistic part? Which one is harder?

SR: For me the most difficult thing is to make it all technical. I like artistic swimming, sometimes I can do monkey business on the water and I like smiling.

OC: In previous interviews you said that you would like artistic swimming to reach the same level that figure skating has currently achieved in Russia. Why do you think figure skating is so popular and artistic swimming is a little overlooked?

SR: I know that figure skating has many shows. But in our sport, we just have two shows in Russia, two shows a year and we don’t do world shows. Maybe we need to try to do this to make our sport more popular. And I know that it is very popular in Asia. Maybe we need to try to begin from these countries. I think that people would like it because it's not dull. It's very bright, it has music.

But of course, we need time and opportunities to do this. But maybe I will do it later after my sports career.

OC: Who is your favourite figure skater? And why?

SR: I like Hanyu Yuzuru. I think he's great. I also like Evgenia Medvedeva, and Alina Zagitova. I think they are great athletes I can't choose just one (laughs).

Hanyu Yuzuru is one of Svetlana Romashina's favourite figure skaters

OC: How good are you at figure skating yourself? Did you ever try the sport?

SR: No, it's not the sport for me. I tried maybe four or five times and I just can't stand on the ice. I can move but just a little. And it's not even figure skating, it's just like standing on ice (laughs). But I don't do this very often because it's not very good for our legs, for our muscles, and it's very dangerous for us. That's why I don't do it often. Maybe later, of course, I will try.

OC: You have met so many famous athletes at the Olympic Games. Is there one athlete in particular, maybe an Olympic athlete, that inspires you?

SR: I remember at the London Olympic Games when we met Michael Phelps and, of course, we asked him for a photo. Me and Natalia have a photo with him and it was great.

I'm just a little bit upset that I didn't have an opportunity to see Michael Jordan. Because Michael Jordan and Michael Schumacher are my favourite athletes.

OC: Let’s imagine, let's dream a little - you're standing on the podium at Tokyo next year with a gold medal. What would it mean for you to win it?

SR: As athletes we are superstitious people. I'm trying not to think about it, but I want to do everything to achieve this. Of course, I want to stand on the podium. Of course, I want to have a gold medal and I just can say that I will do everything to achieve this.