From Vegas to Kazan: US wins mixed duet synchro at worlds
KAZAN, Russia (AP) Christina Jones and Bill May, a couple of old pros in the pool making a comeback while juggling Las Vegas show careers, won a gold medal in new mixed duet technical synchronized swimming at the world championships Sunday night.
The Americans totaled 88.5108 points to beat the Russians by 0.2122 points in their home pool with a 2 1/2-minute routine that included scissor kicks and spins at Kazan Arena.
Aleksandr Maltsev and Darina Valitova of the host nation, who led by just over two points after the preliminaries, settled for silver with 88.2986 points. Maltsev, the only man participating in synchro in Russia, didn't like the results.
''We were underscored, and all others were clearly overscored,'' he said. ''That's bitter, we are upset.''
Italians Manila Flamini and Giorgio Minisini earned bronze with 86.3640 in a sport that has been traditionally dominated by women.
Russia didn't leave the pool empty-handed. Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina won gold in the synchro duet technical with 95.4672 points. China was second and Japan third.
China improved to 3-0 in diving when Chen Aisen and Lin Yue won men's 10-meter synchronized platform with 495.72 points, keeping the country on track for a gold-medal sweep.
They easily outdistanced Ivan Garcia Navarro and German Sanchez of Mexico, who took silver with 448.89. Russians Roman Izmailov and Victor Minibaev earned bronze at 441.33.
The synchro mixed duet is new to the world championships, even though men and women first competed together at the 1998 Goodwill Games. Back then, May was the only man on the U.S. women's team, which earned a silver medal in a group routine.
He had to wait 17 years to reach the world stage again, staying in shape by performing in a Cirque du Soleil show in Las Vegas. May jelled his hair and donned nose clips for a comeback after the mixed event was added to the worlds program late last year.
''A lot of barriers have been broken,'' May said. ''You see these strong countries, these masculine countries, strong athletes come from these countries. They're going to bring more men into the sport.''
Jones and May received mostly 9s and 8s while being judged on execution, impression and performing required elements in a certain order.
Wearing deep coral suits - hers with a deep V-neck and his a bikini style - Jones and May swam an upbeat routine to ''Just Kiss Me'' by Harry Connick Jr. Their deck work - which is judged, too - included a move borrowed from a Las Vegas choreographer: May dived through a circle Jones created using her left arm and leg while standing on her right leg.
''This has never been done before in synchronized swimming,'' Jones said.
May jokingly called it ''The Bill and Christina dive-through.''
Jones added, ''Let's name it right now.'''
The gold didn't come without injury. Jones dived in and May was waiting underwater to lift her when Jones' nail sliced his left eye. The skin around it was bruised, but it didn't affect his eyesight.
''I felt bad about it for one second,'' Jones said, laughing.
Now 36, May won 14 U.S. national titles in the late `90s, having once been banned from synchro because of his gender.
''I don't think you're ever too old to achieve anything,'' he said.
May added, ''I like to call it experienced.''
The mixed event is not in the Olympics, although Jones and May hope it will be added soon enough for them to extend their comeback.
''This was a real big test event to see what type of response the world would give this and I think the world has given a great response,'' May said. ''Someday it will be there.''
Besides training up to five hours a day, Jones and the 27-year-old May perform 10 shows a week in Cirque du Soleil's ''O'' at the Bellagio hotel. They got two weeks off to compete at worlds. Their show friends were cheering them on while watching live at a party back home despite the 10-hour time difference.
''We're both better athletes than we were before we retired because we've learned how to be become performers,'' Jones said. ''When you combine that with our athleticism, it's the gold.''
May has a shot at another medal in Kazan. He and 2000 Olympian Kristina Lum Underwood, his duet partner years ago, will compete in the mixed duet free event Tuesday. Lum Underwood performs in ''Le Reve - The Dream'' at the Wynn hotel in Las Vegas.
Returning to Sin City with gold in their pockets won't necessarily earn Jones and May a raise, though.
''I wish,'' he said. ''It'll probably put us in line for a nice pat on the back.''