SA synchro-team aiming high
Johannesburg - The first synchronised swimming team in 13 years to represent South Africa at the FINA World Championships left for Shanghai, China on Tuesday with the aim of returning as the number one team in Africa.
Together with the women's water polo team, the synchro team departed a week before the swimmers, as they will in action on the second day of the world championships which begin on July 16.
The competition begins with diving, open water swimming, water polo and synchronised swimming.
Swimming South Africa (SSA) last sent a synchro team to the 1998 world championships in Perth, Australia where they finished in 27th place.
Synchro coach Sue Manners-Wood said their aim was to finish either with an eight-point average (a routine is judged out of ten) or to finish above Egypt in Shanghai.
"Our ultimate goal is to beat Egypt because that would qualify us to go to the Olympics next year as it is also a continental qualifier," said Manners-Wood.
"My goal is also to achieve an eight-point average and we would ideally like to finish in the top twenty out of the 47 countries competing."
Manners-Wood said there were a few challenges they faced in producing teams of international standard.
"The team members are scattered all over the country and it's difficult to get them together for training."
The team were often coached via YouTube and only held the odd joint training camp to ensure the team's routines were synchronised.
Manners-Wood also said she only had a small pool of swimmers to pick from because of the specific demands of the sport.
"Synchro is a demanding sport and there are not that many people who a) have the talent and b) have the time to do it because it is so demanding," she said.
SSA sent a duet and solo synchro team to last year's Commonwealth Games where they finished in fifth-place.
The team consists of 12 women, of which two will participate in the duet events, one in the solo events and eight swimmers will take part in the technical and free routines.
The South African women's water polo team open the competition against hosts China, who are ranked third in the world. They then face Italy, also one of the top-ranked teams.
Team coach Mark Evans said they targeted a win against Cuba which would set up a play-off for ninth to twelfth place.
"That would be a huge improvement on previous years," said Evans.
"The sides we will compete against are pretty much professional or semi-professional.
"We are an amateur side but what's been really good was that a number of the girls who play in universities in America brought back a lot of knowledge and skill.
"My personal belief is that it is the strongest ladies side that has left the country."
The team finished in 16th place at the previous world championships.
The men's water polo team leaves for China on Wednesday.