Their world is Water. The sheer physical beauty and absolute precision of their aqua ‘ballerina’ routines – is truly mesmerising. They have been to four World Championships representing South Africa in the free and technical duet. They are Emma Manners-Wood and Laura Strugnell. Amanzi found out more about their journey and what it takes to be champions.
The Journey to Budapest
The love affair with synchro started early on in both their lives. One life in Cape Town and the other life in Johannesburg. Emma and Laura started synchronised swimming at 5 and 6 years old respectively. Laura watched her sisters swim. Emma fell in love with it as her mother, Sue Manners-Wood was an ex-synchro swimmer and is currently their coach. Their collective journey started in 2011 and marked their first swimming season together and their first FINA World Championships in Shanghai, China. They then went onto represent South Africa in Barcelona and Russia in the 15th and 16th FINA Champs. This year saw them compete in Budapest. Watch their journey here.
Up Close and Personal with SA’s Dream Synchro Team
What have been some of the major successes in your career?
Emma: Our very first World Championships in 2011 was a massive eye opener. As hard as we had been working, it wasn’t nearly as hard, when compared to the rest of the world. And particularly those performing in the top 10 in the world. It showed us that no matter how hard it is and how much pain we are in, the rest of the world are under more pressure and pushing harder despite the pain and effort. I believe it made us better. We went in with our expectations too high and needed to get knocked down a peg to improve.
Laura: Moving from Joburg to Cape town to train with Emma and Sue was difficult for me. It was hard to leave my family behind. But it helped me to grow and achieve things on my own. We then had the chance to swim at four World Championships together. However, our most disappointing moment was finding out that we weren’t able to go to Olympics which South Africa had qualified for. Despite this setback we went on to achieve our best score at a World Championship.
What makes a great synchro swimmer?
Emma: In my opinion, a great synchronised swimmer is willing to learn continuously. Every coach has something to offer you. Take what you can from them and improve. While natural talent is important, no one can get anywhere on raw talent alone. You must be willing to take criticism and improve on it.
Laura: You must love the sport with everything you have. This is not a sport for the fainthearted. Most of the girls who have been successful have been self-motivated and driven to achieve the best they can – at all costs. If you are willing to put in the time, then you will be a great synchronised swimmer.
What have you learnt from competing around the world?
Emma: Every athlete is in the same boat. Every single one of us, even the very best, gets nervous. Everyone has off days and doesn’t feel like training on occasion. Hard work is painful, sacrifice is painful, but it is all worth it in the end.
Laura: That the game is a lot harder than we ever thought. That South Africa is very laid back compared to the rest of the world. And that there are a lot of countries that in a similar financial situation to South Africa.
Describe how you keep in shape and how much time you need to be in the water?
Emma & Laura: Synchro is more than just being pretty in the water. We spend up to 5 days a week in the gym with a bio kineticist and strength coach. We also have to keep swimming-fit with regular speed swimming sessions. Flexibility is extremely important and takes more work for some than others. I (Emma), performed ballet for over 12 years which has contributed to my core stability and control in the water.
Do you follow any specific nutritional programme to optimise your performances?
Emma: Yes! Leading up to major competitions such as World Championships we are on strict nutrition plans with low sugar and processed carbohydrate intake. Synchro is an aesthetic sport and while good nutrition is important for correct muscle development and strength in the water, it is also essential for us to look our best when walking onto the deck and performing.
How do you come back from disappointments in your synchro career?
Emma & Laura: I think we use it to fuel hard work, while it’s difficult, it is great to be able to use it in a positive way and fight back to prove that we are more than capable.
Who should we be watching in the next generation of synchro swimmers?
Emma: Italian mixed duet – Manila Flamini and Giorgio Minisini.
Laura: Russia will always be the best, but the most creative and best teams in terms of crowd appeal are Spain and China.
What are your mantras in life?
Emma: Never give up on your passion.
Laura: Swim now, breathe later.
What would your advice be to an aspirant synchro swimmer?
Emma: Oxygen is over-rated, and chlorine makes great perfume!
Laura: 110% effort is better than any 1st place.
What’s next for SA’s dream synchro team?
Laura & Emma: We are preparing for our local competitions. We would like to go to South Korea for the 18th FINA World Champs and Olympic qualifier. We both have very busy ‘day’ jobs so this doesn’t allow us to train as much as we would like to. Maybe we will find a generous sponsor that will allow us to both be full time athletes.
Amanzi is behind you all the way dream team! We will keep our readers posted as we watch this duet continue to perform their creative art across the globe.