Don’t be fooled by the showy costuming, heavy makeup and incessant smiles. Originally known as ‘water ballet’, synchronized swimming is an aquatic sport and art form requiring a combination of exceptional water skills, strength, endurance, flexibility, artistry and precise timing, as well as extraordinary breath control.
In 1891, the first recorded synchronized swimming competition was held in Berlin, Germany (at the time, a male-only event). The sport began to breakthrough in Europe and North America in the early 20th century when it became a women’s sport and popular entertainment at large halls and theaters equipped with big water tanks on stage. Katherine Curtis, an American synchronized swimming pioneer and educator, organized and trained the ‘Kay Curtis Modern Mermaids’, a water ballet act that performed at the Chicago ‘Century of Progress’ World’s Fair (1933-1934), and during the 40’s and 50’s, Hollywood movies starring swimming sensation, Esther Williams, boosted the interest in synchronized swimming with elaborately produced routines.
Six decades following those big synchronized swimming movie productions, the film, Breathless, presents a very different approach with a dramatic story shot entirely underwater. Totally captivating.
Depending on the level of competition, synchronized swimming includes solo, duet and team events, and begins with a “technical” routine or “figures” with predetermined elements performed in a specific order without touching the bottom of the pool. Then, swimmers perform a longer “free” routine, requiring no specific technical elements and allowing more creative choreography (but, again– no touching the bottom). Routines are scored on a scale of 100, with points for artistic impression, execution, and difficulty.
The first Olympic demonstration of the sport was at the 1952 Olympic Games, but synchronized swimming did not gain acceptance as an Olympic sport until the 1984 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles. In 2017, FINA, the international governing body for aquatic disciplines, renamed the sport of synchronized swimming to ‘artistic swimming’ for the stated purpose of clarifying the nature of the sport and enhancing its popularity; however, the decision has been criticized by some swimmers and coaches.
Not For Women Only?
It’s a bit ironic that synchronized swimming started out as a male-only swimming competition, and now the sport excludes men.
Pau Ribes, a professional artistic swimmer from Barcelona, Spain, first saw a synchronized swimming show when he was a child, and was immediately hooked on the sport. But, there was a problem. Synchronized swimming was, and still is, considered a sport for women, and men have been excluded from amateur and professional competitions.
It was only after Pau discovered Panteres Grogues (Yellow Panthers) [a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping LGBT community members succeed in sports] that he found acceptance and was able to train. In 2015, Pau made history by participating in an international competition that included male swimmers for the first time. But, his dreams and goals didn’t end with that accomplishment. Watch him tell his story in this short video Synch or Swim by Great Big Story.
Synchronized swimming, however, is not just about competition these days. It’s a sport that can be enjoyed by everyone at any age.
Synchronized Swimming Lessons For Adults, Swim England Synchro
The Los Angeles Synchronized Swim Club offers free monthly “Synchro Basic Clinics” and other programs
Why Doesn’t the US Have a Synchronized Swimming Team in Rio? by Vicki Valsik, The Atlantic (August 19, 2016) [Americans once dominated the sport, but things changed after 1996, and you guessed it — money is a big factor]
Synchronized Swimming Has a History that Dates Back to Ancient Rome, by Vicki Valosik, Smithsonian.com (August 12, 2016) – Before it reached the Olympics, the sport was a spectacle of the circus and vaudeville
Wikipedia: Synchronized Swimming
Canada Artistic Swimming is on a mission — to pioneer the sport of synchronized swimming…. “transform what is expected, what is possible, and what people around the world think about artistic swimming”.
If you missed the live stream broadcast of the 2019 Canadian Championships, there’s still time to watch video recordings of the competition. Just click/tap the “Watch Again” button or select from the video posts located right top corner of the media player below ↓
More than 225 athletes from across Canada competed in the 2018 Artistic Swimming Canadian Championships (April 24-28) at the state-of-the-art Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre, Windsor, Ontario, all vying for national titles in over 18 events. If you missed the live stream broadcast of the competition, there’s still time to watch video recordings. Just click/tap the “Watch Again” button or select from the video posts located on the media player below ↓
Don’t know how to swim?
It’s never too late to learn this life-saving skill.
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Feature photo by Flickr user, Voxsports Voxer, CC BY-NC 2.0