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Synchronized swimming bronze a dream come true for Japan's Nakamura

Mai Nakamura, center, and her Japanese synchronized swimming teammates hold their bronze medals, at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 19, 2016. (Mainichi Photo, Naotsune Umemura)

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Japanese synchronized swimmer Mai Nakamura, at 27 the oldest member of her team, exulted in Japan's bronze medal-winning performance at the Summer Games here on Aug. 19 after a trip to the podium eluded her in London four years ago.

    The Japanese swimmers were the eighth and last to appear. Their performance was made to the theme "Amaterasu-Omikami" (Sun Goddess), a rhythmical composition of traditional Japanese-style sounds symbolizing the beginning of prosperity. After entering the water, the swimmers quickly moved to the first jump of their performance. Nakamura put her all into this leap, flying high off of the lift from her teammates and twisting in the air.

    After the team impressed the crowd with their well-timed legwork and the scoreboard displayed them in third place, Nakamura jumped for joy. Her mother, watching from the stands, said, "Her hard work has finally paid off."

    Born in Higashinada Ward, Kobe, Nakamura's first encounter with synchronized swimming was when she was a second-grader in elementary school. While she was being taught to swim, a group in the pool next to hers suddenly began to swim to music. Full of curiosity, she immediately decided she wanted to swim like that.

    When she was a junior high school student, Nakamura joined Imura-synchro-club, a synchronized swimming team, where she improved her technique. She appeared in her first Olympics at age 23, and while she was happy she was able to compete there, she was disappointed to finish fifth and go home without a medal.

    Japan synchronized swimming head coach Masayo Imura, center, and other coaches pose with the team with their medals, at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Center in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Aug. 19, 2016. (Mainichi Photo, Naotsune Umemura)

    "This can't be the end of it," she thought, as she prepared for the next Summer Olympics in Rio.

    Since head coach Masayo Imura, 66, returned to the Japanese team in February 2014, Nakamura's practice time nearly doubled. Swimming from morning until night, it was the most practice she had ever had. This gave her confidence, and at an international competition last year she reached third place.

    At the medal ceremony in Rio, Nakamura smiled as she put on her bronze.

    "I made this Olympics the goal of my synchronized swimming career. I was able to swim to my fullest, and leave no regrets," she said. (By Tadashi Murakami, Mainichi Shimbun)

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