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Jacqueline Simoneau, Karine Thomas Take Pan Am Gold In Synchro

07/11/2015 12:20 EDT | Updated 07/11/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - When the music stopped, and their score flashed up, Canadians Jacqueline Simoneau and Karine Thomas finally succumbed to the emotions.

The synchronized swimmers are Rio-bound.

Simoneau and Thomas won gold in duet at the Pan American Games on Saturday, to secure their spot in next summer's Rio Olympics, then promptly broke down in tears.

"I had all the emotions going through my head, flashbacks to when I was a little kid just dreaming of going to the Olympic Games," Simoneau said. "And now this dream has finally almost come true, and I don't really know how to react about it."

The 18-year-old from Saint-Laurent, Que., and Thomas, 26, from Gatineau, Que., leaders after the technical program, scored 178.0881 for the gold.

The duo collected their second gold of the day when Canada won the team event. Simoneau and Thomas, along with Gabriella Brisson, Annabelle Frappier, Claudia Holzner, Lisa Mikelberg, Marie-Lou Morin, Samantha Nealon, and Lisa Sanders scored 178.1094 for the victory.

Mexico came second with the United States in third.

The Pan Ams aren't an Olympic qualifier for the team event.

Simoneau and Thomas did numerous sports growing up. Simoneau eventually narrowed her choices down to diving and synchro — she had a diary that listed the pros and cons of both sports — and was finally forced to choose when she was scheduled to compete in both on the same day.

Thomas, whose parents were both national team water polo players — her dad Ian would have competed at the 1980 Olympics had it not been for the boycott — fell in love with synchro when she was watching the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

"I thought it was just amazing, and never looked back since," Thomas said.

Simoneau is a rising star in the sport, joining the national team in 2012. Thomas is the only holdover from the team that finished fourth at the London Olympics that same year. The two were paired together after a series of tests by Synchro Canada.

"It's a happy match between us," said Thomas. "We haven't been working together that long but I think we've grown quite a bit, especially in the last year. We're just a really good duet.

"We are very matter of fact, very business when we are in the water. We just know exactly what to do but when we're out of the water, we get along great as well. She's one of my best buddies so I honestly couldn't ask for a better person to do this with."

Wearing lime green swimsuits, their hair shellacked back in tight buns, the Canadians brought the flag-waving home crowd at the jam-packed CIBC Pan Am/Parapan Am Aquatic Centre to its feet.

"There were a little bit of nerves but I think overall we were very excited and having the crowd behind us is just amazing," Thomas said. "Feeling their support, you can't ask for anything better as an athlete."

In the crowd, Thomas's mother Martine Valin and Simoneau's mom Linda South leapt from their seats and hugged.

"We were so excited and happy for them, we both had the tears were running down," South said.

"Before we both looked over at each other, gave each other a thumbs up, like 'This is it,'" Thomas added. "So after they were done it was like, 'Phew, what a relief.'"

The moms plan to be in Rio to watch their daughters go for Olympic gold — "We're already planning our trip," South said.

Karem Achach and Nuria Diosdado of Mexico were second in the duet with 170.7800, while Mariya Koroleva and Alison Williams of the United States won the bronze with 166.3876.

Canada swept the synchro gold medals at the Pan Ams four years ago in Guadalajara, Mexico, and Canada has fared well in the sport at this event, winning seven gold, 23 silver and three bronze overall — second only to the U.S.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the incorrect name for Thomas's mother.

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