They may look like identical aquatic twins as they glide gracefully through the water in perfect synchrony, but Israeli Olympians Anastasia Gloushkov, 26, and Inna Yoffe, 23, admit that synchronized swimming is a tough sport.
“Synchronized swimming looks glamorous, but there are many hours of stress, sweat and worrying behind it,” admits Gloushkov, who with her partner Yoffe has just qualified for their third Olympic Games in the sport.
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“In a sports career, I think every athlete feels some point of breakdown — a crossroads when he or she must decide whether to go on and reach new goals — and I’ve had those points, more than once,” Gloushkov confides.
Now those doubts are behind her, however, after she and Yoffe, coached by Gloushkov’s mother, Tatiana Tsym, made the cut for the Israeli Olympic delegation at the 14th FINA World Championships in Shanghai in July. They will represent Israel at the 2012 Olympics in London.
“The feeling you get after an achievement is so great and it matures you,” says Yoffe. “You just want to do better next time.”
Gloushkov and Yoffe both have roots in Russia. Gloushkov is the child of two accomplished Moscow swimmers. When she was six, her parents got a job teaching at a water sports club in Soliniki, Greece, and three years later moved to Jerusalem. Their young daughter was already spending lots of time in the pool.
Similar skills and physiques
“What interested me more than swimming was the dancing and the makeup — the things that are attractive to a girl,” says Gloushkov. “That has stuck with me until now.”
Yoffe moved to Israel from St. Petersburg when she was four. “I started swimming at age nine through a school program, and that is how I met Tatiana [Tsym],” says Yoffe, who is a lifeguard at the Jerusalem Ramada hotel and lives in the capital with her mother.
When Yoffe was old enough to compete on the senior level, Tsym paired her with her own daughter. The two had similar skills and physiques, particularly their legs, which are a central focal point of synchronized swimming routines.
Tsym coached them for the 2003 world championship in Barcelona that provided their ticket to the Athens Olympics in 2004. Afterward they parted ways for a time but were back together for the Beijing Games in 2008 and have remained a duo.
Gloushkov and her fiancé, who works in high-tech, are raising his seven-year-old son in the Jerusalem suburb of Moshav Shoresh. She is studying toward a bachelor’s in social sciences and human resources at Achva College of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and dreams of a career outside the water.
“After I finish my third Olympics, my wish is to take all this experience from sports and propel it to somewhere it would be useful,” she says. “Perhaps I could be some sort of adviser in how to deal with stress and set goals and achieve them.”
Yoffe also sees London as her final hurrah as a competitive swimmer. “I want to start university and study biology, so it would be hard to continue,” she says.
An unlikely sport in Israel
Being a synchronized swimmer in Israel is a challenge in itself. Their typical training day at a Jerusalem neighborhood community center encompasses 90 minutes in the gym and three hours in the pool. It was tough finding a place willing to give them exclusive use of the pool on a regular basis, and this pool isn’t even regulation size.
“In Russia and Spain and the US, [synchronized swimmers] get all the hours in the pool they need, while we only have a half-Olympic pool for a certain amount of time,” says Yoffe. Israel has a few full-size pools elsewhere, but given a chronic water shortage, most are smaller.
“Being an athlete in a kind of sport that is really about water, in a country where we have a problem with water, is pretty funny,” adds Gloushkov. “When I see that I represent Israel in this specific sport, it makes me proud of what I put into it, and I am thankful for the Olympic Committee seeing the potential here.”
She doesn’t think most soccer-addicted Israelis know what to make of synchronized swimming. “To a non-professional eye, it’s difficult to understand the difference between opponents. It’s a beautiful sport to watch, but it’s less interesting than a match of tennis or football, where you can really understand who is against whom. Here you are looking at routines and scores, and it’s much more like ballet than athletics.”
Nevertheless, both Gloushkov and Yoffe say they love their country and are proud to represent it through their chosen sport.
“We have a chance to show a nicer part of Israel — more cultural, happier, more cheerful,” says Gloushkov. “When the world sees all the problems Israel has, I can show it from a different point of view, and that makes me feel like an ambassador of good will.”
Before training for the 2012 London Games, Yoffe and Gloushkov aim to have a bit of a breather for a few months. Yoffe will concentrate on matriculation exams so she can enter college after the Olympics. Gloushkov will plan her wedding, scheduled for 11/11/11.
“We are giving our muscles some rest,” says Gloushkov, but there’s certainly no possibility of atrophy. The lighter schedule includes several European competitions and an international qualifying open.
For news, features, videos and background information on the athletes, please visit olympics.israel21c.org.