The Russian, pale and sour, ballet-walks heel-toe, heel-toe onto the pool deck in his bathing suit, which is designed to look like a communist-era military uniform. It consists of shorts, a real fold-down collar, actual epaulets and a black cross-body strap for ammunition. A woman, the Russian’s partner, all nose and eyebrows in a lavender bathing suit decorated with appliqué flowers, prances out behind him tragically, and they embrace in this brightly lit arena in Kazan, at the first synchronized swimming world championship to include men. There is a TV camera here, and it projects the swimmers onto large screens for those in the cheap seats, and it immediately zooms in on the hammer and sickle insignia on the Russian’s belt so that it seems to fill the arena. This elicits an eardrum-melting roar from the crowd, where a woman in the stands puts her hand to her face. A man nods heavily with memory. Did that judge just wipe away a tear? These are only the prelims in the mixed-gender technical duet event, but one day later during the finals, the audience, many of whom are here now, will react exactly the same way, as if their hearts are being broken anew for their tragic communist pasts.

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