Eyes wide open, swimmers dazzle without goggles

Those too sensitive to even squint underwater are amazed at Olympic synchronised swimmers, who do upside-down splits and soar out of the pool with wide-open, dolled-up eyes staring straight at judges.

Synchronised swimmers do use goggles in training, but they are banned in competitions, where athletes dazzle with sparkly costumes, balletic underwater moves and a seemingly instinctive connection with their partners.

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"The artistic side is how we portray the emotion of the music, and the eyes are a very powerful connection," explains Great Britain's Olivia Federici, who has been competing in the duets with partner Katie Clark. "We really want to be looking right at the judges to grab them,” she adds.

Synchronised swimmers gradually shed their goggles as competitions approach, hoping their muscle memory and gradual tolerance to chlorine compensate for blurry vision.Of course that can be tricky for those swimmers who have less-than-perfect vision. But Canada's Jacqueline Simoneau, 19, who is nearsighted, has a trick to put her contact lenses on before competition.

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"I fill goggles with water, and then I put them on my eyes, and I blink a little," says the Canadian, who competes with Karine Thomas. “I don't know how, but it works!," she giggles.

The lack of goggles is emblematic of synchronised swimming's rigour. Athletes train as many as 10 hours per day to execute routines that blend swim moves like the backstroke with choreographed routines that include lifts and backflips - all without ever touching the bottom of the pool.

Russian duets and teams have been regarded as the leading force in the discipline for years. For Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina, who won gold in Rio, swimming without goggles is second nature. “It's so normal that it’s not a problem,” says Romashina.

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Still, some swimmers say the restriction should be lifted. “I wouldn't mind if there was an option [to wear them],” opines Great Britain's Clark.

Of course, swimmers still compete with nose clips - and everyone agrees those are a must! “If we don't have clips, we will be at the bottom of the pool," quipped Greece's Evangelia Papazoglou.


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