These photos show what's happening below the surface in synchronized swimming

japan synchronized swimming

NBC

Japan's synchronized swimming team competes in Rio.

Above the surface of the water, synchronized swimmers display smiling faces, graceful legs, and pointed toes.

Underwater, they're working harder than any athlete at the Olympic games.

They launch teammates out of the water and through the air. They suspend themselves upside down and contort their bodies into circus-esque poses without ever touching the bottom of the pool. And, unlike hammer throwers or weightlifters who grimace their way through feats of athleticism, synchronized swimmers perform their grueling routines without showing fatigue.

In other words: Don't be fooled when synchronized swimmers make the sport look easy - it's not.

During synchronized swimming competition in Rio, NBC set up a split-screen camera that showed viewers the action above and below the water at the same time. Here are a few shots from the competitors' routines:

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Members of team Italy extend their legs out of the pool...

Members of team Italy extend their legs out of the pool...

...with a boost from the swimmers pushing upward.

...with a boost from the swimmers pushing upward.

Japan's swimmers made this handstand look effortless.

Japan's swimmers made this handstand look effortless.

But it took all their combined strength to pull off.

But it took all their combined strength to pull off.

Team Australia smiles for the crowd.

Team Australia smiles for the crowd.

At the same time, they fight to stay afloat.

At the same time, they fight to stay afloat.

A Brazilian swimmer flies through the air...

A Brazilian swimmer flies through the air...

...thanks to the teammates who launched her.

...thanks to the teammates who launched her.

Team Japan's swimmers perform an upside down split.

Team Japan's swimmers perform an upside down split.

You can see their arms churning the water below the surface.

You can see their arms churning the water below the surface.

Swimmers from Ukraine emote during their routine.

Swimmers from Ukraine emote during their routine.

They stay upright using a leg kick called the eggbeater.

They stay upright using a leg kick called the eggbeater.

Source: Team USA

The judges see a perfect leg formation from Team Brazil.

The judges see a perfect leg formation from Team Brazil.

They don't see the effort behind it.

They don't see the effort behind it.

Japan's swimmers show off their flexibility.

Japan's swimmers show off their flexibility.

You can see just how close together they are in the underwater view.

You can see just how close together they are in the underwater view.

It looks like the swimmer in the handstand is being held up by just one person.

It looks like the swimmer in the handstand is being held up by just one person.

In reality, it's a team effort.

In reality, it's a team effort.

Team Ukraine forms a lattice of extended legs.

Team Ukraine forms a lattice of extended legs.

And it's definitely not as simple as it looks.

And it's definitely not as simple as it looks.

Watch NBC's coverage of synchronized swimming right here.

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