The top 12 teams advanced to the final

ATHENS, Greece -- The Russians and Japanese have a lock on
the top two spots in synchronized swimming. The Americans would
gladly settle for third.

Russia was first with 99.001 points and Japan second with 98.000
after the Olympic duet free preliminary routine Tuesday night.
Americans Alison Bartosik and Anna Kozlova were third with 96.751.

The top 12 teams advanced to Wednesday night's final.

The Americans are in contention for the first U.S. synchro
Olympic medal since 1996. Kozlova was fourth in duet with a
different partner at the Sydney Games four years ago, while the
United States finished fifth in team competition.

"I felt like we did really well," said Kozlova, of San Jose,
Calif. "I was a little nervous. Once we started doing it, the
nerves went away."

Kozlova and Bartosik have been fourth at most international
competitions since they teamed up three years ago.

"In this sport, it's very difficult changing your ranking,"
said Bartosik, of Santa Clara, Calif. "Our goal coming into the
Olympics was to come up to third. I hope we can stay there."

They will try to hold off the duo from Spain, who were fourth
with 96.084.

The Americans swam to the music "Gorky Park" and three other
dramatic compositions. Their 3½-minute routine paid tribute to
Greek mythology with a Medusa theme that included multicolored
snakes on their sparkling suits and hairpieces.

"When we heard this music, we definitely thought of snakes,"
Bartosik said. "We feel very unique. We think it sets us apart. We
look at it like a piece of artwork. We're trying to do as many
unique and creative things as possible. Everyone seems to like

With no restrictions on music, choreography or elements,
Bartosik and Kozlova used their 10 seconds of deckwork to wrap
their arms and legs together, with one of the women on all fours
and the other on her back.

"We were trying to do something where we're connected and
intertwined," Bartosik said.

The red-sequined Russian duo of Anastasia Davydova and Anastasia
Ermakova performed to the rollicking music of "Don Quixote" by
Ludwig Minkus.

The Russian and Italian judges each awarded the duo technical
marks of 10.0, and the Ukrainian judge gave them a 10.0 for
artistic impression.

For the second straight night, the Russians declined to talk to

Japan's Miya Tachibana and Miho Takeda eschewed the usual entry
dive and jumped in the air with their arms posed before dropping
into the water.

They received all 9.8s for technical merit; their artistic marks
were 9.8s except for a 9.9.

"I lost some energy in the last part. I was disappointed a
little bit. I will need to improve that tomorrow," Tachibana said.
"I was disappointed that the gap between Japan and Russia got

Russia won both the duet -- with different swimmers -- and team
events at the 2000 Games, beating out the Japanese both times.

The evening's biggest reception was reserved for the Greek duo,
whose routine frequently was punctuated by bursts of applause and
wild cheering. They finished ninth and thus qualified for the