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Synchronized swimming made a controversial debut at the Olympic...

LOS ANGELES -- Synchronized swimming made a controversial debut at the Olympic Games Monday when a dispute broke out over the timing of the preliminary duet routines.

In a comedy of errors, the United States and France had a point deducted for failing to complete the minumum time of 3:45 but the marks were reinstated when it was revealed that officials had made a timing mistake.

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During the fast nine duets, timekeepers failed to add the short time that competitors spent performing on the pool deck to the time they had in the water. The American and French duets spent a few more seconds at poolside and so were judged to have completed a short water routine.

It took the International Swimming Federation more than an hour to resolve the dispute.

But Americans Candy Costie and Tracie Ruiz finally were awarded their original score of 98.40, which gave them a narrow lead over Canadian rivals Sharon Hambrok and Kelly Kryczka, who totaled 97.80.

Japan's Saeko Kimura and Miwako Motoyoshi were third with 96.80, ahead of Britain's Caroline Holmyard and Carolyn Wilson, who recorded a 92.40.

Scores from today's preliminaries will be added to those from Wednesday's compulsory figures to determine the top eight nations which qualify for the duet final on Thursday.

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The competition already has developed into a bitter struggle between the United States and Canada, Canada held its Olympic trials behind closed doors to prevent the American's from viewing the routines.

Costie and Ruiz introduced an intricate 'thread the needle' maneuver to their routine to earn three 9.9 points out of a possibe 10, while the Canadians included three vertical lifts in a snappy routine and received two scores of 9.9.

Both duets regarded their performances as among their best ever in international competition.

But some judges criticized the high marks awarded to the U.S. duo.

'They were really good, but it wasn't perfect and I think three 9.9s was a bit high,' said British Coach Jane Holland.

Canadian Coach Debbie Muir was more cautious about the American performance.

'Yes. there were flaws in the American routine, but at this stage I'd rather not enter any controversy over the judging,' she said.

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