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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

YOUTH GAMES DIARY: Russian Style to Win in Swimming




Over at the old Olympic Stadium the Russian synchronized swimming squad were warming up for their World Youth Games team event Thursday.


One of their coaches, Yelena Gryzunova, made no bones about her team's superiority. "I won't beat about the bush," she said. "These girls are quite simply the best in the world."


The troupe of 10, all of whom come from Moscow, have spent up to eight hours a day in rubber hats and nose clips in the run up to the competition. "It is very demanding for girls as young as 13," she said. "But it certainly pays off."


Most of the girls in Gryzunova's team have done synchronized swimming since they were 6 years old. "Their technique is perfect," she said. But being able to hold their legs bolt upright out of the water, like a pair of knitting needles, is less than half the battle.


Judges only award 35 percent of the points for technique. The rest go on artistic interpretation. "That's why we are now better than America, where the sport was invented," said Gryzunova. "They don't have the same sense of choreography as we do in Russia."


More than half of a Russian synchronized swimmer's time is spent out of the water, Gryzunova said. "The girls don't just have trainers, they have choreographers, too."


Although she is confident her team will win Sunday, Gryzunova said the Ukrainian and Greek teams were very promising. "But they don't know about brushing gelatin through their hair to make it really shine," she said. "That's a Russian secret."


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Alongside the hectic sports program of the World Youth Games, there are a number of notable cultural events. The modest exhibition at the Maly Manezh Hall behind the State Duma is a triumph of sports photography.


Coordinated by the Moscow House of Photography and the cultural department at the city government, "Sport in Photographs" takes viewers on a trip down memory lane. But unlike other exhibitions of its ilk, this one doesn't resort to the usual slushy nostalgia.


The 200 or so photographs on display begin in the 1890s, with Alexander Kodchenko's black and white stills. One shows a team of police officers setting out on a tandem race. Their mustaches are waxed, their pants tied at the ankle.


In the next frame, Tsar Nicholas II stands to attention with a tidy mob of nobility, preparing for an afternoon's skiing. The exhibition passes on through the 1930s, and Max Penson's prolific portraits of Soviet athletes, to Reuter's stunning color shots from this year's World Cup in France.


Perhaps the most poignant photograph was taken by Damir Sagoli at the Third Invalid Athletic Championships in Bosnia Herzegovina. The picture shows Asad Omirovich, who lost his right leg during the ethnic conflict in the former Yugoslavia, competing in the high jump. In the foreground, his false leg, in a brand new Reebok trainer, leans against the crash mat.


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The Spanish volleyball team were taking time out from a heavy training schedule Thursday to wander around the center of the capital. So far they had seen the Kremlin and Red Square, they said.


"Very beautiful," they chorused. But what they were really impressed with was the number of illegal videos for sale in Moscow.


"In Spain, it's not possible to buy these videos," Miguel Alvarez said as he shelled out for six fairly tame Julia Roberts' movies. "The Russians are very lucky people."