Ten years ago, when journalists asked a Russian synchronous swimmer whether the Russians could ever beat North Americans or the Japanese in this discipline, she quipped: “Only if they all drown.” That was before Olga Brusnikina came on the scene.
Brusnikina, 21, began practicing synchronous swimming at age eight with Yelena Polyanskaya, the top Russian coach in the sport. Polyanskaya is still Brusnikina’s coach. “She prepares me so well for the competition,” Brusnikina said, “not only physically, but also morally. Sometimes you feel like giving up, but no, she says just a few words and you feel OK again.”
Brusnikina’s talent began to shine in 1993, when she became the first Russian to win a medal in synchronous swimming at the Junior’s Championship in Leeds. Experts were quick to predict a bright future for Brusnikina. She soon switched to adult competitions, partnering with Olga Sedakova, leader of the Russian National Team (Sedakova was older and more experienced than Brusnikina, which gave her the team leader role, despite the fact that she was living in Switzerland).
The pair took the bronze medal in the duets competition at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. In 1998, at the World Cup in Beijing, the traditional hegemony of North American and Japanese swimmers was broken when Sedakova-Brusnikina took the gold. Soon after Beijing, Brusnikina became the leader of the national team (Sedakova, while still swimming—she won the World solo title in 1998—was moving on to pursue business opportunities).
Brusnikina was now considered Russia’s top synchronized swimmer and decided to team up with Maria Kiselyova—a swimmer of the same age. Observers were nearly unanimous in their forecast that Brusnikina-Kiselyova would dominate the sport at the Sydney Olympics.
Just prior to Sydney, in June 2000, Brusnikina won the European Swimming Championships solo event in synchronized swimming, defending the World title she first won one year previous in Istanbul. In the final, she received four perfect 10s from the judges in the two different categories, technical merit and artistic impression.
At Sydney, Brusnikina confirmed the experts’ opinions, showing herself to be the undisputed world leader in synchronized swimming. Together with Kiselyova she won the duets competition, besting their nearest competitors, the Japanese, with a karate-themed routine performed to the beat of Japanese drums. The pair picked up perfect 10s from all judges for artistic impression and their technical marks suffered only from a lone 9.9 from the Japanese judge. Brusnikina also led the Russian team to its first gold in the group competition.
The Russian press dubbed Brusnikina “Russia’s Golden Fish,” after Pushkin’s famous fairy tale about a fish who could make any wish come true. To honor her new nickname, her boyfriend, a waterpolo player for Moscow’s Dinamo, Alexei Yevstigneev, bought Olga an exotic goldfish.
In July, Brusnikina will again defend her solo and duet World titles, this time in Fukuoka, Japan. But, for the duet competition, she will be without her tested partner, Kiselyova, who has quit the sport to pursue a career in TV journalism.
Meanwhile, she is also preparing for the 2004 Olympics in Athens. She plans to again bring home double gold, and said she only wishes there was a solo event in the Olympics like there is in World competitions. “I have a highly developed ego,” Brusnikina admitted, “so I just love when the attention is focused solely on me.” Which it surely will be for some time to come.
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