LONDON — The only drama in synchronized swimming is who's going to take the silver.
The Russian national anthem will surely be playing during the medal ceremony. Again.
With another nearly flawless performance, Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina advanced to Tuesday's duet final as top qualifiers after the preliminary free routine, setting up Russia to extend its domination of the sport.
The country hasn't lost a synchro event at the Olympics since the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Performing to music that included the theme from Tim Burton's movie "Sleepy Hollow," the Russians glided effortlessly through the water to add to their leading marks in the technical preliminary. They easily claimed the top spot with 196.800 points, leaving everyone else to battle for the next two spots on the podium.
The leaders are looking for perfection.
"Maybe about 90 percent happy," Ishchenko said after Monday's performance. "We have small things to fix for the final. I hope that the judges did not see those mistakes that our coach saw."
The Russians left behind the other medal contenders. China's Huang Xuechen and Liu Ou were second with 192.810, followed by Spain's Ona Carbonell and Andrea Fuentes at 192.590.
"We don't care about Russia," Fuentes said. "Our fight now is with China."
The top 12 teams advanced to Tuesday's final. Among those getting through: The home British duo of Olivia Federici and Jenna Randall in ninth, along with the American pairing of Mary Killman and Mariya Koroleva in 10th.
But it would take some sort of major blunder for the Russians to lose this competition.
"We have made a few changes, upped the tempo, sped up our program," Ishchenko said.
The Russians aren't taking anything for granted. Asked how she would prepare for the final, Romashina said the country's athletes were told to avoid distractions by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
"No shopping," she said, laughing. "Medvedev has given the order to all athletes that they are not allowed to shop or walk around London. We only relax in the Olympic village."
The Chinese brought in a new duet after twins Jiang Wenwen and Jiang Tingting finished fourth at the Beijing Games.
"The world of synchronized swimming went into a new generation," Liu said. "Because the twins' physical condition was not too good ... that's why they are not competing here. That's why we were selected."
No one works harder that the Chinese, which helped boost their standing in a sport where reputation plays a large role in the judging.
"Our training is very tough," Liu said. "The longest session we've had is 10 hours nonstop training. (AP)