Can you see yourself having to hold your breath for minutes while trying to look graceful and keeping time to the music while executing a sequence of technical movements underwater? After resurfacing, you must maintain a poised smile rather than gasping for air to make the performance appear seamless and effortless. That’s what synchronized swimming is all about.
In this article, we will take a deep dive into the world of synchronized swimming, exploring the history of the sport, the rules and regulations that govern it, the skills and positions needed, and the equipment worn by synchronized swimmers. Whether you are a seasoned fan of the sport or are simply curious about what makes it so fascinating, this article will provide you with all the information you need to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the sport of synchronized swimming.
What is Synchronized Swimming?
Synchronized swimming is a sport that is often misunderstood and overlooked. Many people view it as nothing more than a water-based dance, but in reality, it is a highly skilled and demanding sport that requires a unique combination of athleticism, artistry, and precision.
Synchronized swimming is a form of water-based performance art that combines swimming, dance, and gymnastics. It is typically performed by teams of athletes, who perform a choreographed routine in a pool to music. The routines involve intricate movements, including spins, twists, lifts, and formations, all synchronized to the beat of the music. Synchronized swimmers must be highly skilled in swimming, as well as in dance and gymnastics, in order to perform the complex movements required for their routines. Competitions are held at both the national and international levels, and the sport is recognized by the International Olympic Committee.
History of Synchronized Swimming
Synchronized swimming, also known as artistic swimming, is a relatively young sport that emerged in the early 20th century. The sport originated in North America, where it was initially known as “water ballet” because of its similarity to the dance.
The first recorded synchronized swimming competition happened in 1891 in Berlin, Germany. At that time, many swim clubs were formed around the sport, and it simultaneously developed in Canada. Besides existing as a sport, it was often a popular addition to Music Hall evenings in the larger theaters of London or Glasgow, which were equipped with on-stage water tanks where the synchronized swimmers could perform.
In the early 20th century, several American water ballet companies emerged, including the Annette Kellerman Girls, the Modern Mermaids, and the Canadian Aqua Show. These companies were known for their elaborate water shows, including synchronized swimming, diving, and other aquatic performances.
In the 1930s, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) began to recognize synchronized swimming as a competitive sport, and the first national championship was held in 1941. However, the sport remained largely confined to North America until the 1950s, when it began to gain popularity in Europe and Asia.
In the 1960s and 1970s, synchronized swimming underwent significant changes as swimmers began incorporating more technical elements and complex choreography into their routines. The sport also became more international, with the first World Aquatics Championships, including synchronized swimming events held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1973.
In 1984, synchronized swimming made its Olympic debut as a demonstration sport at the Los Angeles Games. That same year, the first official teaching manual for synchronized swimming was published, Margaret Swan Forbes. Four years later, the sport was included as a full medal event at the Seoul Olympics, with duet and team events.
Since then, synchronized swimming has continued to evolve, with swimmers incorporating more acrobatic and gymnastic elements into their routines. In 2017, the sport was officially renamed “artistic swimming” by the International Swimming Federation (FINA), reflecting its growing emphasis on artistic expression and performance. The changes received criticism, as the swimmers and coaches argued that the name diminishes the athleticism of the sport. Some countries adopted the name after a delay, with 19 of the top 25 countries in the world either partially or fully using the name “artistic swimming.”
In 20222, men-only solo events were introduced for the first time, including the 2022 European Aquatics Championships and the 2022 World Junior Artistic Swimming Championships. The next year, World Aquatics added men’s solo events to the program for the first time.
Synchronized swimming, now officially called artistic swimming, features a range of competitions at different levels, from local and regional events to international championships and the Olympic Games. Here are some of the most common formats of competition in synchronized swimming:
Solo – In solo competition, a single swimmer performs a routine set to music, showcasing her technical and artistic skills.
Duet – In a duet competition, two swimmers perform a synchronized routine set to music. Swimmers must coordinate their movements and maintain synchronization throughout the routine.
Team – In a team competition, a group of swimmers (usually eight) performs a routine together, often incorporating lifts and other complex elements. Teams are judged on their technical skills, synchronization, and artistic impression.
Combination – Combination routines involve a mix of solo, duet, and team elements, with swimmers performing in different combinations throughout the routine.
Figures – Figure competition focuses on the technical skills of the swimmers, with each swimmer performing a series of prescribed technical movements, such as sculls, tucks, and pikes. Swimmers are judged on the precision and quality of their movements.
In each format, athletes perform two different types of routines: the first is a technical routine, and the second is a free routine. The technical routine is where swimmers perform a set of predetermined technical aspects of the sport in a specific order. Meanwhile, the free routine has no restrictions and allows swimmers to display their creativity. The free routine is typically longer than a technical routine.
Skills Needed for Synchronized Swimming
Synchronized swimming is a demanding sport that requires a wide range of physical and technical skills. Here are some of the basic skills that are essential for anyone who wants to become a synchronized swimmer:
Synchronized swimmers must have strong swimming skills first of all. It includes proficiency in different swimming strokes, good breath control, and maintaining a streamlined body position in the water. To be able to move gracefully underwater, one must know and master basic swimming first.
Synchronized swimmers must learn a variety of basic figures, including sculls, tucks, and pikes. These figures are the building blocks of more complex movements and routines. Sculls, which refer to hand movements that propel the body, are some of the most essential parts of synchronized swimming.
Synchronized swimming routines involve intricate choreography, requiring swimmers to have a good sense of rhythm and musicality. Swimmers must be able to synchronize their movements with the music and with each other.
Lifts and throws
Lifts and throws are a key part of many synchronized swimming routines. Swimmers must learn proper technique and timing to execute lifts and throws safely and effectively.
The eggbeater kick is a crucial skill in synchronized swimming, which involves a specific way of treading water. This technique enables the swimmer to maintain stability and height above the water while keeping the hands free to execute arm movements. Swimmers must learn to maintain a steady eggbeater kick to stay in place in the water, allowing them to perform lifts, spins, and other movements.
Synchronized swimming is a team sport, and swimmers must learn to work together effectively to create seamless, synchronized movements in the water.
Synchronized Swimming Positions
In synchronized swimming, swimmers use several common positions to create different formations and movements in their routines. Here are some of the most commonly used positions in synchronized swimming:
1. Back layout – This is the simplest position where the body floats completely straight and rigidly, facing upwards on the surface while sculling under the hips.
2. Back tuck somersault – The swimmer begins in a back layout position, brings their legs towards their chest, and pivots themselves backward, doing a complete rotation or 360. From the tuck position, the swimmer then extends their legs and finishes in a back layout position.
3. Ballet leg – This position involves extending one leg straight up to the surface of the water, with the other leg bent and tucked in close to the body.
4. Bent knee (or heron) – In this vertical body position, one leg remains vertical while the other bends so that its toe touches the knee of the vertical leg.
5. Crane (or fishtail) – In this vertical body position, one leg remains vertical while the other leg is dropped parallel to the surface, creating a 90-degree angle or “L” shape. A crane position requires a 90-degree angle in the legs, while a fishtail position requires the bottom foot to be at the surface, which may or may not create a 90-degree angle in the legs depending on the swimmer’s height.
6. Flamingo – This is also similar to the ballet leg position, except that the bottom leg is pulled into the chest so that the shin of the bottom leg touches the knee of the vertical leg while remaining parallel to the surface of the water.
7. Front layout – The swimmer is in a position much like the back layout, with the only difference being that the swimmer is facing down, sculling by their chest, and not breathing.
8. Front walkover – The swimmer starts in a front layout position, sculls downwards into a pike position, lifts one leg vertically into a crane position, lowers that same leg into a split position, lifts the remaining leg vertically into a knight position, lowers the remaining leg, and sculls above their head into a back layout position.
9. Knight – In this position, the swimmer’s body is in a surface arch position, where the legs are flat on the surface, and the body is arched so that the head is vertically in line with the hips. One leg is lifted, creating a vertical line perpendicular to the surface.
10. Pike position – The pike position involves straightening the legs and bending at the waist so the body forms a “V” shape.
11. Split position – In this position, the body is split in half, with one leg extended to the side and the other leg bent and tucked in close to the body.
12. Tower – The swimmer starts in a front layout position, sculls downwards into a pike position, lifts one leg vertically into a crane position, lifts the other leg into a vertical position, and descends into the water.
13. Tuck position – In this position, the swimmer tucks their chin to their chest and brings their knees up to their chest, with their arms wrapped around their legs.
14. Vertical – This position is achieved by holding the body completely straight, upside down, and perpendicular to the surface, usually with both legs entirely out of the water.
Judging Synchronized Swimming Competitions
Synchronized swimming competitions are judged based on a combination of technical skills and artistic impressions. Judges evaluate the performance of each routine, awarding scores for various elements and deductions for errors. Here are the main factors considered in the judging of synchronized swimming competitions:
Swimmers are judged on their execution of specific technical elements, such as figures, lifts, spins, and transitions. Judges look for precision, timing, and synchronization among the swimmers.
Swimmers are also evaluated on their artistic performance, including choreography, musical interpretation, and presentation. Judges consider elements such as creativity, style, and overall performance quality.
Judges also consider the difficulty level of the routine, including the technical complexity of the movements, the synchronization of the swimmers, and the creativity and originality of the choreography.
Judges evaluate how well the routine was executed, considering factors such as synchronization, precision, and overall technical skill.
Equipment for Synchronized Swimming
Here are some of the main pieces of equipment needed for synchronized swimming:
Swimmers wear specialized swimwear for synchronized swimming, which is designed to be form-fitting and stay in place during routines. During the figure test, a black swimsuit is recommended for athletes, and a matching suit that complements the music and the routine is recommended during the competition. Swimsuits often have decorative elements such as sequins and rhinestones.
It may happen that athletes perform in two events, like solo and team events. In situations like these, the athletes will be provided with two different swimsuits.
One of the most important pieces of equipment for synchronized swimming is underwater speakers. Underwater music is not audible, so it plays an important role because it’s a synchronized sport.
Athletes have to perform lots of underwater movements in synchronized swimming, so the chances of water entering the nose are high – which can be uncomfortable and cause breathing difficulties. To avoid that, swimmers wear nose clips made of hard plastic or wire with a thin rubber coating.
Goggles protect the eyes from chlorine and help athletes see their teammates underwater. However, it can be worn only during training and warm-ups because they are not allowed for routine competitions.
When training, swimmers wear swim caps to keep their hair out of their faces during training and routines and to create a streamlined look.
It may sound weird, but swimmers put gelatin in their hair to keep it shiny, rock solid and won’t fall out of place when they perform. It’s because they don’t wear swim caps during competitions.
Floatation devices such as kickboards and noodles may be used during training to help swimmers develop their skills and perfect their routines.
In addition to the equipment used during performances, synchronized swimming also requires standard safety equipment such as lifeguard stations, first aid supplies, and rescue equipment.