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By Pilar Olivares
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazil's synchronized swimming team is planning to make waves in August, when Rio de Janeiro becomes the first South American city to host the Olympics.
In a country best known for soccer and volleyball, the eight-member squad hopes that a strong performance can help raise the profile of synchronized swimming and get more Brazilians interested in a sport that many see as merely a lighthearted dance in the water.
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"It is one of the toughest sports there is," said team member Maria Eduarda Miccuci.
Monday through Saturday, the 21-year-old Rio de Janeiro resident and her teammates undergo weight, stretching and cardiovascular regimens, on top of swimming and choreography, for eight hours a day.
As a team, Brazil's synchronized swimmers lack the pedigree of nations like Russia, which has long dominated the sport, or China, Spain and the Ukraine, which are also expected to make strong showings in Rio.
But at last year's World Aquatic Championships in Russia, the Brazil squad made it to the final 12-team round, an accomplishment it hopes to repeat at the Rio Games.
Miccuci also hopes to make the finals of the smaller duet competition with her doubles partner, 20-year-old Luisa Borges, who is also from Rio.
Both women, who train at swimming facilities operated by local soccer team Fluminense, are excited to make their Olympic debuts at home. "The Olympics are the dream of any athlete, but to compete here makes it all the more inspiring," Miccuci said.
Despite the sport's lack of prominence in Brazil, both partners, who began training together eight years ago, said they were hooked once they first tried it as young teens.
"I was already a good swimmer and felt at home in the water, but this was even more exciting – the music, the aesthetics," Borges said.
The aesthetics involve something that would seem odd in other sports: gelatin. Besides heavy makeup that will not wash off in the pool, the athletes baste their hair with the edible powder and warm water to affix their hairdos.
Everything else, though, is in constant motion.
No matter how high they climb in the rankings, the women hope other young Brazilians will follow in their wake.
"I love this sport," Borges said, "and hope that others will, too."
(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)