Training with America's 'synchro' hopefuls

Story highlights

  • Aude Guerrucci photographed a synchronized swimming duo ahead of the Olympics
  • She wanted to show a side to the elegant sport that most people don't see

(CNN)Anita Alvarez and Mariya Koroleva walk up to the edge of the pool.

They strike a pose in their glittering costumes, hair slicked back in a tight bun. Rhythmic music begins to play, and they dive into the water.
    For the next three minutes, Alvarez and Koroleva perform a routine that combines the gracefulness of a ballet dancer, the flexibility of an acrobat and the power of a swimmer -- all while moving together in perfect unity.
    The synchronized swimmers will be representing the United States next month at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. It will be Alvarez's Olympic debut; Koroleva competed in the London Olympics in 2012.
    Photographer Aude Guerrucci
    Aude Guerrucci spent a week photographing the pair at their training facility in Moraga, California. She also documented the U.S. junior team, which was preparing for this month's World Championships.
    "I wanted to do a story about synchronized swimming, and I wanted to do something different than what you usually see," said Guerrucci, a photographer based in Washington. "I wanted to show the difficult training."
    Alvarez and Koroleva train eight to nine hours a day for six days a week. They train in ballet and weightlifting. They practice their routine on the ground, a process called land drilling, in order for the synchronization to be flawless. They attend regular physical therapy sessions.
    Many images of synchronized swimming focus on the competition aspect -- the costumes, the expressive faces the swimmers make as they come up for breath, the feet like daggers jutting out of the water, the elaborate formations. The swimmers pull it all off effortlessly.

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    But Guerrucci knows firsthand just how much hard work and preparation goes into a performance. As a teenager in France, she competed in synchronized swimming.
    While training in the sport, she was also nurturing a passion for photography and would cover the competitions she was participating in. She said she always wanted to return to the sport as a subject for a project.
    Synchronized swimming is not a high-profile Olympic sport, and Guerrucci said its athletes don't get as many sponsorships and endorsements as others. So it often requires hard work outside the training facility, too. Koroleva, who just finished her master's degree at the University of San Francisco, is also working several hours a week at a retail sport company, Guerrucci said.
    Because Guerrucci knows the sport, shooting it was easy for her. "I know how they move," she said. "I know what to expect." She even got in the water with the swimmers to show what happens beneath the surface.
    "I was more nostalgic with the junior team, because I was their age when I was practicing synchro," she said. "It brought back memories."