Eyes wide open, swimmers dazzle without goggles

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Olympics - Synchronized swimming event explained

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 15 (Reuters) - Those too sensitive to even squint underwater are amazed at Olympic synchronized swimmers, who do upside-down splits and soar out of the pool with wide-open, dolled-up eyes staring straight at judges.

Synchronized swimmers do use goggles in training, but they are banned in competitions, where athletes dazzle with sparkly costumes, balletic underwater moves and a seemingly instinctive connection with their partners.

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"The artistic side is how we portray the emotion of the music, and the eyes are a very powerful connection," said Britain's Olivia Federici, 26, after completing her technical routine with partner Katie Clark on Monday.

"We really want to be looking right at the judges to grab them," Federici, who began swimming at the age of two, told Reuters by the side of the Rio 2016 outdoor pool.

See the 13 most expressive photos from the Synchronized Swimming Duets:

13 PHOTOS
Olympic Synchronized Swimming Duets
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Olympic Synchronized Swimming Duets
Japan's Yukiko Inui and Risako Mitsui compete during the synchronized swimming duet technical routine preliminary round in the Maria Lenk Aquatic Center at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Canada's Jaqueline Simoneau and Karine Thomas compete during the synchronized swimming duet technical routine preliminary round in the Maria Lenk Aquatic Center at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Slovakia's Nada Daabousova and Jana Labathova compete during the synchronized swimming duet technical routine preliminary round in the Maria Lenk Aquatic Center at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Monday, Aug. 15, 2016. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Greece's Evelina Papazoglou and Greece's Evangelia Platanioti compete in the Duets Technical Routine preliminaries during the synchronised swimming event at the Maria Lenk Aquatics at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 15, 2016. / AFP / Martin BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
Spain's Ona Carbonell Ballestero and Spain's Gemma Mengual Civil compete in the Duets Technical Routine preliminaries during the synchronised swimming event at the Maria Lenk Aquatics at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 15, 2016. / AFP / Martin BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14: Jacqueline Simoneau and Karine Thomas of Canada compete in the Women's Duets Synchronised Swimming Free Routine Preliminary Round on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14: Iryna Limanouskaya and Veronika Yesipovich of Belarus compete in the Women's Duets Synchronised Swimming Free Routine Preliminary Round on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Spain's Ona Carbonell and Gemma Mengual compete in the Duets Free Routine preliminaries during the synchronised swimming event at the Maria Lenk Aquatics at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016. / AFP / Martin BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - British duet Katie Clark and Olivia Federici compete in the Duets Free Routine preliminaries during the synchronised swimming event at the Maria Lenk Aquatics at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016. / AFP / Martin BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
China's Huang Xuechen and Sun Wenyan compete in the Duets Free Routine preliminaries during the synchronised swimming event at the Maria Lenk Aquatics at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016. / AFP / Martin BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
Spain's Ona Carbonell and Gemma Mengual compete during the synchronized swimming duet free routine preliminary round in the Maria Lenk Aquatic Center at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
China's Huang Xuechen and Sun Wenyan compete in the Duets Free Routine preliminaries during the synchronised swimming event at the Maria Lenk Aquatics at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016. / AFP / Martin BUREAU (Photo credit should read MARTIN BUREAU/AFP/Getty Images)
Russia's Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina compete during the synchronized swimming duet free routine preliminary round in the Maria Lenk Aquatic Center at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Aug. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
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Synchronized swimmers told Reuters they progressively shed their goggles as competitions approach, hoping their muscle memory and gradual tolerance to chlorine compensate for blurry vision.

Of course, ditching goggles is tricky for synchronized swimmers who have less-than-perfect vision. But Canada's Jacqueline Simoneau, 19, who is nearsighted, has a trick to put her contact lenses on before competition.

"I fill goggles with water, and then I put them on my eyes, and I blink a little," Quebec-born Simoneau said after competing with partner Karine Thomas.

"I don't know how, but it works!," she giggled, confirming she still had both lenses in after her routine at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre.

"SO NORMAL"

The lack of goggles is emblematic of synchronized swimming's rigor.

Athletes train as many as 10 hours per day to execute routines that blend swim moves like the backstroke with choreographed routines that include lifts and backflips - all without ever touching the bottom of the pool.

Russian duets and teams have dominated the discipline for years.

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For Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina, who have a stranglehold on the discipline and are the gold favorites in Rio, swimming without goggles is second nature.

"It's so normal that its not a problem," Russia's Romashina told Reuters under the Rio sun.

Still, some swimmers say the restriction should be lifted.

"I wouldn't mind if there was an option," said Britain's Clark, her hair caked under layers of thick gel to keep buns in place during the athletic routines.

Of course, swimmers still compete with nose clips - and everyone agrees those should not go anywhere.

"If we don't have clips, we will be at the bottom of the pool," quipped Greece's Evangelia Papazoglou.

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