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Gloushkov and Yoffe competing in the Duet Free preliminary round on Tuesday. Photo by Getty Images
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Anastasia Gloushkov and Inna Yoffe on Tuesday joined an elite group of athletes in the annals of Israeli Olympians, becoming the 16th and 17th Israeli athletes to have punch tickets for three or more Olympics. Synchronized swimmers Gloushkov and Yoffe finished 18th in the free style preliminaries at the World Championships in Shanghai, but with their 14th place finish in the technical exercise at the beginning of the week they won a bid to compete in the 2012 London Games.

"The achievement does something very pleasant to the heart," Gloushkov said from Shanghai. "It's very exciting to tell yourself, 'Wow, I reached the Olympics a third time.' I really love the number three. The appearance in Athens 2004 was exciting because it was the first time. In Beijing I realized it wasn't an accident, and the third time is very meaningful and more sweet than the previous times."

Yoffe, who was a teenager when they qualified for Athens, experienced the achievement this time as a seasoned adult. "Now, as opposed to the age of 15, I also understand what's going on," she said. "Eight years ago we didn't expect it at all. It was a total surprise. They informed me I had met the Olympic criteria, and I asked, 'Where to?' Now it's much more meaningful and special."

As with all Israeli Olympians no matter how great, Gloushkov and Yoffe were forced to coordinate their demanding practices in the water with their packed lives on land. Fortunately, they had each other. The support, understanding and primarily the shared mission saved them from complicated situations and carried them to their goal.

"As with every couple, there are always ups and downs, but it is plain to us both why we are here, and what we want to achieve," said Gloushkov. "If we both didn't have a clear goal in our mind, it would have been much more difficult. There's school, personal worries to solve simultaneously, and there's no comparing our conditions to those of the great [Olympic] powers. All things considered, our achievement is even greater."

Yoffe also describes an intense training regiment, far from enjoyable, which involves jumping into the freezing pool early every morning. "It's very difficult physically, in addition to the mental aspect, which requires giving up a lot. Sometimes I feel like eating something forbidden, sometimes the gang goes for a week in Eilat or abroad, and I'm in practice, but it's worth it."

The duo missed the finals by just two spots on Sunday. "It would have been perfect, but the goal was the criterion, and we met that," says Gloushkov.

In synchronized swimming, as in gymnastics, judges play a crucial role. "When it's the human factor, it's a problematic game. The judging will never be objective," Gloushkov said. "We Israelis have no judge who will be there for us like the rest of the strong delegations, so the challenge is greater. There will always be someone who won't give you what you deserve. This time, too, we deserved a little higher scores, and if we qualified despite all those who don't want us there, it sweetens the result."

After they return from Shanghai, the 23-year-old Yoffe will catch up on the matriculation exams she missed because of her first Olympics. Yoffe, who moved to Israel from St. Petersburg, Russia, when she was 4, works as a lifeguard at a Jerusalem hotel.

Gloushkov, 26, who was born in Moscow and has lived in Israel since she was 9, is in the middle of her B.A. studies in behavioral science, communication and human resources.

She is engaged to be married in November.

The pair will continue to train in Jerusalem. "We are in much better shape - in terms of experience as well as new techniques we've acquired," said Gloushkov. "The body doesn't get weak or worn. We still have something to show."