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Page last updated at 07:56 GMT, Wednesday, 16 April 2008 08:56 UK

In sync for Beijing

By Sarah Holt

Olivia Allison and Jenna Randall
Allison (top) and Randall are hoping to qualify for Beijing

What would you be prepared to do to become an Olympic athlete?

Would you make yourself feel physically sick, move to an army garrison, don sequinned costumes, and train eight hours a day?

Because all of the above, and more, is exactly what synchronised swimmer Olivia Allison is putting herself through in her quest to become an Olympian.

"What do I hope to get out of all this?" the 18-year-old ponders.

"A medal in 2012."

To help Allison achieve her goal at the London Games, British Swimming has introduced an innovative synchronised swimming development programme.

But Allison and her duet partner Jenna Randall have made such rapid progress since starting the scheme last year that they have a real chance of competing in this summer's Beijing Games.

If they qualify, it will be the first time since 1992 that Great Britain has been represented in Olympic synchro events.

Allison and Randall stepped up their preparations by finishing ninth at last month's European Championships.

Synchronised swimming is like running a 400m race, holding your breath, waving your arms around and smiling

Olivia Allison

But the final test is a qualifying event in Beijing's 'Water Cube' this week, where Allison and Randall are targeting one of the final batch of places up for grabs.

"We are on track for Beijing and are positive about how things are going," Allison told BBC Sport.

"Five teams have qualified so far, one from each continent, so we are taking on the rest of the world for the last 19 places.

"If we qualified for Beijing it would be really exciting and prove to us that we can do really well."

Under British Swimming's new initiative, Allison and Randall are the first synchronised swimmers to train as full-time athletes.

Two years ago, when they represented England at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, they were unfunded and had to rely on Task 2012 scholarship money.

But while synchro is now being taken seriously by Britain's sporting bodies, the public image of the sport as 'soft' might take a little longer to dispel.

Born: 13/2/1990
Event: Synchronised swimming duet
Ranking: British number two
British senior debut: 2006 Commonwealth Games
Sporting hero: MotoGP star Valentino Rossi
"Most people are surprised when I tell them that I'm a synchronised swimmer," says Allison, who gave up studying for her A-levels to focus on synchro.

"A lot of people say that it's not a sport and that we just wear pretty costumes, but I think that's because they haven't actually seen what we do.

"The way we explain it is that it's like running an 800m race, holding your breath, waving your arms around and smiling whilst trying to make it look completely effortless.

"Our routines last two or three minutes and about three quarters of that time we are under water holding our breath.

"After doing the routines, I feel physically sick and want to wretch because I've got so much lactic acid built up and it's painful.

"So when people say it's not a sport, I say 'just try it and you'll find out'."

In an ill-advised moment of do-it-yourself journalism, I did try synchronised swimming with Allison and Randall in Manchester.

Two years on, and the memories of choking in the pool and clutching a burning stomach ache come back to me in all their painful lucidity.

Forget the sequins, waterproof make-up and nose-clips; synchro is serious and it is seriously hard.

Olivia Allison and three of her GB team-mates in a lottery advertisement
Synchro requires strength, flexibility and artistic flair

The sport relies on core strength, flexibility and powerful lungs as athletes perform a series of movements in the pool.

The duet's Olympic programme is similar to that of ice dancers as first there is a technical routine and then a three-minute free routine, combining both technical and artistic elements.

"There is a lot to synchro," says Allison. "It's gymnastic and technical and requires strength and speed."

To pursue her Olympic goals, Allison left her home in St Albans to move to Aldershot, where the British synchro squad train at the Army base's 50m Olympic pool.

"We train for about eight hours a day," says Allison, who started synchro at the age of eight. "And five of that is in the pool.

"Three times a week we do land training for strength and cardio-vascular work and weight training.

"When I was younger I used to find it quite hard because I didn't always get to go out with my friends.

"But then my coach told me that it's worth it in the end because I'm doing so much more."

Olivia Allison is among the British athletes BBC Sport will be following during the countdown to London 2012.

see also
China unveils 'Water Cube' venue
01 Feb 08 |  Olympics
Randall secures synchro ranking
19 Mar 07 |  Swimming
Synchro stars demand more funding
20 Mar 06 |  Commonwealth Games
Randall wins solo synchro silver
19 Mar 06 |  Commonwealth Games
Guide to synchro
02 Mar 06 |  Swimming
Team GB for Beijing
29 Nov 07 |  Team GB
Swimming on the BBC
02 Oct 07 |  Swimming

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