Tracie Ruiz-Conforto was dynamic, as always. A show-stopper. A star. She was bold and beautiful in her sparkling hot-pink suit as she performed a powerfully choreographed synchronized swimming routine at the Olympic Indoor Swimming Pool Friday morning to the stirring strains of Stravinsky's "The Firebird."
Carolyn Waldo was dynamic, too. She showed a similar star quality and she sparkled in her hot-pink suit as she, too, spun and dipped and shot out of the water to Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty."
Ruiz-Conforto, the U.S. star, the defending gold medalist, scored 99.00 points for her routine. Waldo, the Canadian, the silver medalist in '84 who reigned as queen of the synchronized swimming world while Ruiz-Conforto was briefly retired, scored an identical 99.00.
But the gold medal here went to Waldo, who had built herself a 2.5-point lead in figures competition in the preliminary round on Wednesday.
Waldo ended up with a total of 200.150 points for the gold. Ruiz-Conforto took the silver with 197.633 points. And Mikako Kotani of Japan took the bronze with 191.850.
Having the lead going into the final performance, the stage of competition that Ruiz-Conforto usually dominates, helped, Waldo said. In the past, she has had a tendency to psych herself out, to get too nervous.
"I felt so calm during this competition," Waldo said. "I was kind of a numb-brain. I guess that's good because sometimes my emotions get ahead of the competition."
Waldo's coach, Debbie Muir, confirmed that being a "numb-brain" helps in this sport.
"She does better when she doesn't think too much, when it's automatized," Muir said. "In the past, it would have bothered her that it was Tracie she had to beat. That's a real challenge.
"What we've worked on since June (when Ruiz-Conforto defeated Waldo in a pre-Olympic meet here) was not letting her nerves get the better of her."
Ruiz-Conforto has been working on her figures, the compulsory skills that are performed individually for scores. But, then, on Wednesday, she "just had a bad day," Ruiz-Conforto said.
"The reason my meet here in June was so good was that I scored high in figures," she said. "I felt my routine here was very good. That was the best routine I've ever had in terms of choreography and in terms of difficulty. I was proud of it."
Waldo was proud to score as many points as Ruiz-Conforto in the performance, when beauty and reputation and showmanship count for so much.
But Muir noticed something she found interesting in the judging that added up to those identical scores of 99.000, something she called "embarrassing."
Ruiz-Conforto earned scores of 10.0, 9.9, 9.9, 9.9, 9.8, 9.9 and 9.9, getting her 10.0 from Dawn Bean of the United States and the 9.8 from Joan Williams of Great Britain. Waldo earned scores of 9.8, 10.0, 9.9, 9.9, 9.9, 9.9 and 9.9, getting her 10.0 from Joyce Corner of Canada and her 9.8 from Bean. When the high scores and low scores were dropped, though, only the 9.9s counted.
What bothered Muir was that Waldo's 9.8 came from Bean, who had given Muriel Hermine of France a 9.9. "She thought that the French girl was better than Carolyn?" Muir said. "I can't imagine that. The only thing I can guess is that she's thinking ahead to tomorrow, when there will be a French judge (for the duet competition). Other than that one score, I thought the judging was wonderfully consistent. Everyone else judged it the way they saw it."
Waldo will be competing again Saturday in duet competition, along with Michelle Cameron. Ruiz-Conforto, who also won the gold in the 1984 Olympic Games in duet competition, along with Candy Costie, is no longer competing in duets.
Twins Karen and Sarah Josephson will represent the United States.