America's Hope: Synchronized swimmer Mariya Koroleva
Photo: Kyle Terada
By Sam Scott
Mariya Koroleva, ’12, started synchronized swimming soon after she moved to the United States from her native Russia at age 9. She learned about the sport from a flier at school and agreed to try it for two weeks. She and Mary Killman joined forces in duet competition about a year ago, and won silver at the Pan-American Games a brief five weeks later. The pair represents America’s only hope in synchro; the U.S. team did not qualify. Competition begins August 5.
You took off a year from Stanford to ready yourself for the Games. Exactly how much do you and your duet partner Mary Killman practice? Have you missed school?
Mary and I train about eight to 10 hours a day. We are at the pool all day, every day! We have two water workouts and a weight training workout as well as other land training. The biggest thing that I miss about school is having lots of people around me. The only people I see every day are Mary, my coach and a couple other teammates. I miss being able to see my friends and hang out with people. I also miss just being a student and going to class and doing homework!
You and Killman were once competitors, yet you came together for the 2011 Pan American Games and won silver. How did you get on the same page so quickly? How do you complement each other?
Mary and I were paired only five weeks before Pan Ams, so we knew we had a big job to do in a very short amount of time. I think we both just put our heads to it and did everything in our power to come together very quickly. We were very happy with how quickly we were able to put two programs together and with our performance in Guadalajara.
You were born in Russia, which has a very strong synchro program. Did your background play a part in drawing you to the sport?
I started synchro about six months after I came to the United States. I didn’t do synchro in Russia, but because I was new to the country and didn’t know many people, I thought joining a sport would be a great way to make friends and learn the language. The town I lived in [Walnut Creek, Calif.] happened to have a big synchronized swimming team, so I gave it a shot!
Why do you love your sport? What makes you good at it?
I love being able to combine athletics with artistry. It’s really grueling training, but in the end you get to go out and perform in front of people and put on a show. I think I am good at blending those two aspects of the sport and making it look effortless. I also love how many close friends I’ve made through this sport and how many life lessons it has taught me.
The U.S. synchro team did not make the Olympics, despite historically doing well in the sport (including a fifth-place finish in Beijing and bronze medal in Athens). What does that mean?
It was devastating to have the team not qualify. My teammates deserve to go to the Olympics just as much as I do and it’s really unfortunate that this is how it all turned out. But I know they all gave it their absolute best effort, and in the end that's all you can do and the rest is up to the judges.
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