Queens of the pool

Juneau's Koko Urata and Sarah Felix perform their year-end show Saturday and Sunday

Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2005

Juneau synchronized swimmers Koko Urata and Sarah Felix trust each other a great deal.

Not only do Urata and Felix compete in the duet competition, which is a two-athlete performance before fans and judges, they also train together.

On occassion, Urata and Felix also pick each other up, literally and figuratively.

"A couple years ago we were in practice and I was trying to go down and back in the pool," Urata recalled of swimming underwater. "Sarah could already do 50 yards but I couldn't so I tried over and over again and I ended up fainting, but Sarah saved me."

When working on strength, endurance, choreography and music, it's comforting for both Urata and Felix to know that they have each other's back.

That kind of trust helped make the team the 2004 United States Synchronized Swimming Age Group Pacific Northwest Region champs and the defending silver medalists in the USSS Age Group National Championships.

Urata and Felix, members of the Juneau Aurora Knights Synchronized Swimming Team, will perform their year-end show at 11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday at the Augustus Brown Pool before traveling to Seattle next week to defend their title.

"It's really good to have that kind of trust with each other because before you swim you can talk to each other about it," Felix said. "If you know the other person is going to follow through, it makes it a lot easier."

Last year, the 15-year-olds made their mark in synchronized swimming when they captured the regional title.

They followed up their region title by nearly taking the national championship. The duet earned the highest marks for their routine, but fell short of the gold on technical points. The two also finished fifth in the U.S. Open competition last July in New Orleans.

Urata and Felix's chemistry helps create a show that impresses judges and leaves fans breathless.

"Other duets, they fight," coach Jami Eistetter said. "These two don't. They're real pals. They're a real team. So it's just not one of them, it's both of them. Everything they do is for the betterment of the team, of the duet. They are also really good at expression and musical interpretation."

Synchronized swimmers are judged on two key elements - technical merit and artistic impression.

In the technical category, judges look for how the swimmers are synchronized, the execution of different disciplines and the difficulty of the routine.

Artistically, judges keep an eye out for choreography, musical interpretation and presentation, which is Urata and Felix's strong suit.

"I think last year the crowd was behind them," Eistetter said. "They were just the competition's favorite in that event. They had a great time. They had a blast and they showed that."

This season, in their fifth year as a team, they concentrated even more on the technical side of their routine.

The duo participates in strength training, they swim a countless number of laps in the pool and practice their breath control exercises.

"I think breath control is the hardest part," Felix said. "If you get your technique down, you can do it, but once you're underwater for a minute at a time kicking and doing everything, it's pretty hard."

After this weekend's exhibition, the two will practice until flying to Seattle to compete in the regional competition on the last weekend in May.

If they win, Felix and Urata will qualify for USSS Age Group National Championships in Buffalo N.Y. The event takes place in late June.

Win or lose, however, the two will compete with the same trust in themselves and each other that helped them achieve so much.

"We've been together so long we can finish each other's sentences," Urata said. "It's good to be able to connect outside of the pool. We have our strengths and weaknesses but that way we can help each other out. I can help her, she can help me."

• Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at sports@juneauempire.com

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