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Turns Out, Sometimes Olympic Artistic Swimmers Look Like Water Zombies

Make no mistake, the dramatic facial expressions of these swimmers are part of their performances and not by accident.

Posted on August 5, 2021, at 3:03 p.m. ET

Artistic swimmers may be some of the most elegant athletes at the Olympics, with their strength and ability to dance in water in perfect sync. But when still photos of their performances are captured, the swimmers seem to be possessed by the water and part of a completely different type of performance.

Artistic swimmers Svetlana Romashina and Svetlana Kolesnichenko of Team Russian Olympic Committee won the gold in Tokyo on Wednesday with their arachnid-themed routine to the song "Spiders."

It is the sixth Olympic gold medal for Romashina, who said, “I don’t count medals. I just want to feel this moment.”

China’s Huang Xuechen and Sun Wenyan earned the silver with their snake-themed performance.“We were hoping the snake would beat the spider," said Sun.

Ukraine’s Marta Fedina and Anastasiya Savchuk took the bronze, making them the first to win a medal in the artistic swimming event for their country.

These photos show their intensity and skill in an event that combines athleticism, drama, and precision — all while in a pool.

Two women swimmers perform in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
Amin Mohammad Jamali / Getty Images

Team ROC's Svetlana Kolesnichenko and Svetlana Romashina compete in artistic swimming on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Aug. 4, 2021.

A women swimmer performs in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
Ian Macnicol / Getty Images

Vasilina Khandoshka and Daria Kulagina of Team Belarus compete in the artistic swimming event on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Aug. 4, 2021.

A woman swimmer performs in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
Fred Lee / Getty Images

Anna-Maria and Eirini Alexandri of Team Austria compete in the artistic swimming event on day 12 of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Aug. 4, 2021.

Two women swimmers perform in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
Al Bello / Getty Images

Xuechen Huang and Wenyan Sun of Team China compete in the artistic swimming event, Aug. 4, 2021.

Two women swimmers perform in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
Oli Scarff / AFP via Getty Images

Vasilina Khandoshka and Daria Kulagina of Team Belarus compete in the preliminary for the women's duet free artistic swimming event, Aug. 2, 2021.

Two women swimmers hold their heads above water in the pool and stick their tongues out at the Tokyo Olympics
Oli Scarff / AFP via Getty Images

Clarissa Johnston and Laura Strugnell of Team South Africa compete in the preliminary for the women's duet free artistic swimming event, Aug. 2, 2021.

A woman swimmer performs in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
Fred Lee / Getty Images

Kate Shortman and Isabelle Thorpe of Team Great Britain compete in the artistic swimming event, Aug. 3, 2021.

A woman swimmer spins her head, hundreds of droplets of water frozen mid-air around her
Dmitri Lovetsky / AP

Anna-Maria and Eirini Alexandri of Team Austria compete in the artistic swimming event, Aug. 2, 2021.

A woman swimmer performs in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
Sergei Bobylev / TASS

Vasilina Khandoshka of Team Belarus performs during the duet free routine final, Aug. 4, 2021.

An overhead view of a woman swimmer holding her head above water at the Tokyo Olympics
Oli Scarff / AFP via Getty Images

Vasilina Khandoshka and Daria Kulagina of Team Belarus compete in the final of the women's duet free routine artistic swimming event, Aug. 4, 2021.

A woman swimmer holds her arms and spread fingers out before her, surrounded by droplets of water
Alessandra Tarantino / AP

Clarissa Johnston and Laura Strugnell of Team South Africa compete in the duet technical routine, Aug. 3, 2021.

Two women swimmers perform in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
Sergei Bobylev / TASS

Nuria Diosdado and Joana Jimenez of Team Mexico during the duet free routine final artistic swimming event, Aug. 4, 2021.

Two women swimmers have arms around each other in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
Attila Kisbenedek / AFP via Getty Images

Vasilina Khandoshka and Daria Kulagina of Team Belarus compete in the final of the women's duet free routine artistic swimming event, Aug. 4, 2021.

Two women swimmers perform in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics with their arms in front of and behind them
Sergei Bobylev / TASS

Linda Cerruti and Costanza Ferro of Team Italy, Aug. 4, 2021

A woman swimmer does a backflip, captured upside-down mid-air
Fred Lee / Getty Images

Charlotte and Laura Tremble of Team France, Aug. 4, 2021

Two women swimmers perform in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
Grigory Sysoev / Sputnik via AP

Charlotte and Laura Tremble of Team France, Aug. 2, 2021

Two swimmers stand side by side with their arms out behind them
Clive Rose / Getty Images

Svetlana Kolesnichenko and Svetlana Romashina of Team ROC, Aug. 2, 2021

Two women swimmers perform in the pool with their arms to the side
Ian Macnicol / Getty Images

Bregje and Noortje de Brouwer of Team Netherlands, Aug. 3, 2021

One swimmer stands behind another with their head above the other's in a pool
Dmitri Lovetsky / AP

Anna-Maria and Eirini Alexandri of Team Austria, Aug. 4, 2021

Two women swimmers stand back to back on a mat with their arms stretched before them in a performance
Amin Mohammad Jamali / Getty Images

Anna-Maria and Eirini Alexandri of Team Austria, Aug. 4, 2021

Two women swimmers are upside-down and underwater in a pool
Francois-xavier Marit / AFP via Getty Images

Linda Cerruti and Costanza Ferro of Team Italy, Aug. 4, 2021

Two swimmers hold their arms above the water in a pool
Fred Lee / Getty Images

Yukiko Inui and Megumu Yoshida of Team Japan, Aug. 4, 2021

Two swimmers perform in the pool at the Tokyo Olympics
Amin Mohammad Jamali / Getty Images

Marta Fiedina and Anastasiya Savchuk of Team Ukraine, Aug. 4, 2021

Two women swimmers float on their backs and smile, looking up at the camera
Richard Heathcote / Getty Images

Svetlana Kolesnichenko and Svetlana Romashina of Team ROC won the gold in artistic swimming on Aug. 4, 2021.


A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.