The Juneau Aurora Knights duo of Kimiko "Koko" Urata and Sarah Felix recorded the top duet routine score in the 14-15 age group finals Wednesday night at the Esynchro Age Group Synchronized Swimming Championships in Indianapolis.
Urata and Felix posted a score of 80.333 points, nearly two points better than the 78.667 recorded by the Riverside (Calif.) Aquettes duo of Danielle DeCarlo and Alison Williams.
But the Riverside duo wound up winning the gold medal because of a better score during Tuesday's individual figures competition, leaving the Juneau pair to claim silver medals.
"I'm speechless right now," Urata said by phone from Indianapolis. "I think the secret is making this routine fun - being able to smile and having it difficult but fast."
"This is big, overwhelming, wow," Felix said. "I'm shocked."
The Riverside pair had an averaged score of 72.170 points in the figures, which was better than the Juneau pair's 68.498. Urata and Felix were in third place after the figures.
With the final duet scores featuring half of the figures score and half of the score from Wednesday's routines, the Riverside duo won the title with a score of 75.419 points. Urata and Felix took second place with a score of 74.416, while the Santa Clara (Calif.) Aquamaids duo of Christine Park and Kenyon Smith took third place with 74.167 points.
"We had the best routine, by far," Urata said. "We set our minds to it. We were promising each other to work our hardest. Sometimes you get tired at the end, but this time we worked harder and that made it that much better at the end."
"To be honest, no, I didn't think we'd do the best routine," Felix said. "We were the fourth (duet) to go, and the other scores had been in the 70s and the crowd hadn't really applauded. When we started swimming, the crowd started clapping and it got so we couldn't hear the music. I'm still so proud to finish first in the entire USA."
Urata also competed in the solo finals on Wednesday, posting the third-best routine. She had been in seventh place entering the finals, so she moved up to fifth place in the final standings with a score of 74.126. DeCarlo won the gold medal in the solo event with a 77.126, followed by Smith in second with a 75.783 and Park in third at 74.470. Felix was in 11th place after Tuesday's solo semifinals and wasn't one of the eight swimmers to advance to the finals.
Urata and Felix, who will be freshmen this fall at Juneau-Douglas High School, have been competing in synchronized swimming for about six or seven years.
But the last few years they'd been self-taught, until February when Jami Eistetter moved to Juneau from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, and took over as coach of the Juneau Aurora Knights. Until Eistetter moved to Juneau, Urata and Felix were learning routines from videotape with the help of their mothers, who weren't experienced synchronized swimmers.
"This year, with our new coach, we made a much better effort," Urata said. "We've tried new things that we were too scared to try before."
"She's made such an incredible difference," Felix said. "I'm so thankful to have her coaching us. It's been incredible."
Eistetter said the two swimmers had progressed well on their own. But having an experienced synchronized swimmer working with them helped give the pair the confidence to do better.
"Sometimes it helps having a different perspective, having a different focus," Eistetter said. "We're spending a little more time in workouts, not so much in the water but increasing the dryland (training). Every meet we've gone to - and this is the fifth one I've been to with them - they've gotten a little more confidence and a little stronger. I think we've had some really good swims.
"Without a doubt in my mind, I thought they'd be in the top three. But it was surprising they won the routine. They had the best swim. It was flawless."
The duo will perform routines for Juneau residents at 11 a.m. on Sunday, July 11, at the Augustus G. Brown Swim Pool.
They will head to New Orleans in two weeks for the U.S. Open, an international meet that features some of the top age 14-18 synchronized swimmers in the world.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.