Russian synchronized swimming team, May 2007
|Highest governing body||Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA)|
|Olympic||Part of the Summer Olympic programme since 1984|
Synchronized swimming is a hybrid form of swimming, dance, and gymnastics, consisting of swimmers (either solos, duets, trios, combos, or teams) performing a synchronised routine of elaborate moves in the water, accompanied by music. Athletes can perform solos and compete in most other competitions.
Synchronised swimming demands advanced water skills, and requires great strength, endurance, flexibility, grace, artistry and precise timing, as well as exceptional breath control when upside down underwater. During lifts (where up to six people act as the platform, one person acts as a base, and one and/or two people act as flyers), swimmers are required not to touch the bottom – yet pull off an outstanding lift.
Following the addition new mixed-pair event, FINA World Aquatics competitions are open to men since the 16th 2015 championships in Kazan, and the other international and national competitions allow male competitors in every event. However, men are currently still barred from competing in the Olympics. Both USA Synchro and Synchro Canada allow men to compete with women. Most European countries allow men to compete also, France even allows male only podiums, according to the number of participants. In the past decade more men are becoming involved in the sport and a global biannual competition called Men's Cup has been steadily growing.
Competitors show off their strength, flexibility, and aerobic endurance required to perform difficult routines. Swimmers perform two routines for the judges, one technical and one free, as well as age group routines and figures.
Synchronised swimming is both an individual and team sport. Swimmers compete individually during figures, and then as a team during the routine. Figures are made up of a combination of skills and positions that often require control, strength, and flexibility. Swimmers are ranked individually for this part of the competition. The routine involves teamwork and synchronization. It is choreographed to music and often has a theme.
Synchronised swimming is governed internationally by FINA (Fédération Internationale de Natation).
At the turn of the 20th century, synchronised swimming was known as water ballet. The first recorded competition was in 1891 in Berlin, Germany. Many swim clubs were formed around that time, and the sport simultaneously developed in Canada. As well as existing as a sport, it often constituted a popular addition to Music Hall evenings, in the larger variety theatres of London or Glasgow which were equipped with huge on-stage water tanks for the purpose.
In 1907, Australian Annette Kellerman popularized the sport when she performed in a glass tank as an underwater ballerina (the first water ballet in a glass tank) in the New York Hippodrome. After experimenting with various diving actions and stunts in the water, Katherine Curtis started one of the first water ballet clubs at the University of Chicago, where the team began executing strokes, "tricks," and floating formations. On May 27, 1939, the first U.S. synchronized swimming competition took place at Wright Junior College between Wright and the Chicago Teachers' College.
In 1924, the first competition in North America was in Montreal, with Peg Seller as the first champion.
Other important pioneers for the sport are Beulah Gundling, Käthe Jacobi, Marion Kane Elston, Dawn Bean, Billie MacKellar, Teresa Anderson, Gail Johnson, Gail Emery, Charlotte Davis, Mary Derosier, Norma Olsen and Clark Leach. Charlotte Davis coached Tracie Ruiz and Candy Costie, who won the gold medal in duet synchronized swimming at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.
In 1933 and 1934, Katherine Whitney Curtis organized a show, "The Kay Curtis Modern Mermaids", for the World Exhibition in Chicago. The announcer, Norman Ross, introduced the sport as "synchronized swimming" for the first time. The term eventually became standardized through the AAU, but Curtis still used the term "rhythmic swimming" in her book, Rhythmic Swimming: A Source Book of Synchronized Swimming and Water Pageantry (Minneapolis: Burgess Publishing Co., 1936).
Curtis persuaded the AAU to make synchronised swimming an officially recognized sport in December 1941, but she herself transferred overseas in 1943. She served as the Recreation Director of the Red Cross under Generals Patton and Eisenhower, during which time she produced the first international aquacade in Caserta, Italy. She was the Director of Travel in post-war Europe until 1962. In 1959 the Helms Hall of Fame officially recognized Curtis (along with Annette Kellerman) – ascribing to her the primary development of synchronised swimming. In 1979 the International Swimming Hall of Fame inducted Curtis with similar accolades.
Esther Williams, a national AAU champion swimmer, popularized synchronised swimming during WWII and after, through (often elaborately staged) scenes in Hollywood films such as Bathing Beauty (1944), Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), and Jupiter's Darling (1955). In the 1970s and 1980s, Ft. Lauderdale swimming champion Charkie Phillips revived water ballet on television with The Krofftettes in The Brady Bunch Hour (1976–1977), NBC's The Big Show (1980), and then on screen with Miss Piggy in The Great Muppet Caper (1981).
In the late 19th century, synchronized swimming was a male-only event. However, in the 20th century it became a women's sport, with men banned from many competitions. In the US, men were allowed to participate with women until 1941, when synchronized swimming became part of the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). The AAU required men and women to compete separately, which resulted in a decline of male participants. In the 1940s and 1950s, Bert Hubbard and Donn Squire were among the top US male competitors. In 1978, the US changed their rules to allow men to once again compete with women. Rules in other countries varied; in the UK, men were prohibited from competing until 2014, while in France, Benoît Beaufils was allowed to competed at national events in the 1990s. American Bill May was a top competitor in the late-1990s and early-2000s. He medaling in several international events, including the 1998 Goodwill Games. However, Beaufils, May, and other male competitors were barred from top competitions including the World Aquatics Championships and the Olympics. In 2014, FINA announced that men would be allowed to compete at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships in two mixed-pair events. Both May and Beaufils returned from decade-long retirements to represent their countries. Among their competitors were Russian Aleksandr Maltsev and Italian Giorgio Minisini, both over 15 years younger than May and Beaufils. Pairs from ten countries competed in the inaugural events. The 2016 European Aquatics Championships was the first time men were allowed to compete at the European Championships. While men are allowed in more events, they were still barred from competing in the 2016 Summer Olympics.
An Olympic sport
The first Olympic demonstration was at the 1952 Olympic Games, where the Helsinki officials welcomed Kay Curtis and lit a torch in her honor. Curtis died in 1980, but synchronised swimming did not become an official Olympic sport until the 1984 Summer Olympic Games. It was not until 1968 that synchronised swimming became officially recognized by FINA as the fourth water sport next to swimming, platform diving and water polo.
From 1984 through 1992, the Summer Olympic Games featured solo and duet competitions, but they were both dropped in 1996 in favor of team competition. At the 2000 Olympic Games, however, the duet competition was restored and is now featured alongside the team competition.
World championships and synchro
Synchronised swimming has been part of the World Aquatics Championships since the beginning. From 1973 through 2001, the World Aquatics Championships featured solo, duet and team competitions. In 2003, a free routine combination, comprising elements of solo, duet and team, was added. In 2005, it was renamed free combination. In 2007, solo, duet and team events were split between technical and free routines. Since 2007, seven World championship titles are at stake.
|Women's free team||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||16|
|Women's technical team||•||•||•||•||•||5|
|Women's free duet||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||16|
|Women's technical duet||•||•||•||•||•||5|
|Women's free solo||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||•||16|
|Women's technical solo||•||•||•||•||•||5|
|Mixed free duet||•||1|
|Mixed technical duet||•||1|
Sculls (hand movements used to propel the body) are the most essential part to synchronised swimming. Commonly used sculls include support scull, stationary scull, propeller scull, alligator scull, torpedo scull, split scull, barrel scull, spinning scull and paddle scull. The support scull is used most often to support the body while a swimmer is performing upside down. Support scull is performed by holding the upper arms against the sides of the body and the fore arms at 90-degree angles to the body, with hands facing the bottom of the pool. The fore arms are then moved back and forth while maintaining the right angle. The resulting pressure against the hands allows the swimmer to hold their legs above water while upside down.
The "eggbeater kick" is another important skill of synchronised swimming. It is a form of treading water that allows for stability and height above the water while leaving the hands free to perform arm motions. An average eggbeater height is usually around collarbone level. Eggbeater is used in all "arm" sections, a piece of choreography in which the swimmer is upright, often with one or both arms in the air. Another variation is a body boost, which is executed through an eggbeater buildup and a strong whip kick, propelling the swimmer out of the water vertically. A body boost can raise a swimmer out of the water to hip level.
A lift is when members of the team propel another teammate relatively high out of the water. They are quite common in routines of older age groups and higher skill levels. There are many variations on lifts, often dubbed "highlights". These can include partner lifts, float patterns or other areas of unique, artistic choreography intended to impress the judges and audience.
Parts of a successful lift
There are three parts to every lift in synchronised swimming: The top (or "flyer"), the base, and the pushers.
- The Flyer is usually the smallest member of the team. Flyers must be agile and flexible, with a preferable gymnastics background if they are jumping off the lift.
- The Base tends to be of average size. She should have good leg strength and a solid core (when performing a platform lift, a strong core and length is essential).
- The rest of the team will be underneath the chair or plank. They are usually strong and powerful, as their job is to support the Chair/Plank and supply the force needed for the flyer to execute her job.
Types of lifts
- The Platform Lift is the oldest form. In a platform, the Plank lays out in a back layout position underwater. The top sets in a squatting position on her torso and stands once the lift reaches the surface. The remaining teammates use eggbeater to hold the platform and the top out of the water.
- The Stack Lift is a more modern version of the platform. The base sets up in a squatting position a few feet underwater, with the pushers holding her legs and feet. The top then climbs onto the shoulders of the base. As the lift rises, pushers extend their arms while the base and top extend their legs to achieve maximum height. A common addition to a stack lift is a rotation while it descends.
- A Throw Lift is set up exactly like a stack lift. However, when the lift reaches its full height, the "flyer" on top of the lift will jump off of her teammate's shoulders, usually performing some sort of acrobatic movement or position. This is a very difficult lift and should only be attempted by experienced swimmers.
There are hundreds of different regular positions that can be used to create seemingly infinite combinations. These are a few basic and commonly used ones:
- Back Layout: The most basic position. The body floats, completely straight and rigid, face-up on the surface while sculling under the hips.
- Ballet Leg: Beginning in a back layout, one leg is extended and held perpendicular to the body, while the other is held parallel to the surface of the water.
- Bent Knee (or Heron): While holding a vertical body position, one leg remains vertical while the other leg bends so that its toe is touching the knee of the vertical leg.
- Crane: While holding a vertical body position, one leg remains vertical while the other is dropped parallel to the surface, making a 90-degree angle or "L" shape.
- Double Ballet Leg: Similar to ballet leg position where both legs are extended and held perpendiculair to the body.
- Flamingo: Similar to ballet leg position where bottom leg is pulled into the chest so that the shin of the bottom leg is touching the knee of the vertical leg, while remaining parallel to the surface of the water.
- Front Layout: Much like a Back Layout, the only difference is that the swimmer is on his/her stomach, sculling by his/her chest, and not breathing.
- Knight: The 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.
- Sailet Leg: Beginning in a back layout, one leg is extended and held perpendicular to the body, while the other is held parallel to the surface of the water.
- Side Fishtail: Side fishtail is a position which one leg remains vertical, while the other is extended out to the side parallel to the water, creating a side "Y" position.
- Split Position: With the body vertical, one leg is stretched forward along the surface and the other extended back along the surface, in an upside down split position.
- Tub: Both legs are pulled up to the chest with the shins and tops of the feet dry and parallel on the surface of the water.
- Vertical: Achieved by holding the body completely straight upside down and perpendicular to the surface usually with both legs entirely out of water.
Further descriptions of technical positions can be found on the International Olympic Committee website.
Routines are composed of "figures" (leg movements), arm sections and highlights. Swimmers are synchronised both to each other and to the music. During a routine swimmers can never use the bottom of the pool for support, but rather depend on sculling motions with the arms, and eggbeater kick to keep afloat. After the performance, the swimmers are judged and scored on their performance based on technical merit and artistic impression. Technical skill, patterns, shapes, choreography, and synchronization are all critical to achieving a high score.
Technical vs. free routines
Depending on the competition level, swimmers will perform a "technical" routine with predetermined elements that must be performed in a specific order. The technical routine acts as a replacement for the figure event, and is usually used only in senior and collegiate level meets. In addition to the technical routine, the swimmers will perform a longer "free" routine, which has no requirements and is a chance for the swimmers to get creative and innovative with their choreography.
Length of routines
The type of routine and competition level determines the length of routines. Routines typically last two and a half to five minutes, the shortest being solos, with length added as the number of swimmers is increased (duets, trios, teams, and combos). Age and skill level are other important factors in determining the required routine length.
Routines are scored on a scale of 100, with points for artistic impression, execution, and difficulty.
When performing routines in competition and practice, competitors wear a rubber noseclip to keep water from entering their nose when submerged. Some swimmers wear ear-plugs to keep the water out of their ears. Hair is worn in a bun and flavorless gelatin, Knox, is applied to keep hair in place; a decorative headpiece is bobby-pinned to the bun. Occasionally, swimmers wear custom-made swimming caps in place of their hair in buns.
Competitors wear custom swimsuits and headpieces, usually elaborately decorated with bright fabric and sequins to reflect the music to which they are swimming. The costume and music are not judged (but marks will be taken off if the headpiece falls off any swimmer while she is swimming the routine) but factor into the overall performance and "artistic impression." Heavy eye makeup is often worn to help portray the emotions involved with the routine; it helps to accentuate the eyes of each swimmer. This makeup style is often the center of criticism and ridicule. Some argue that it shows a lack of taste and minimizes the athleticism of the sport. In an effort to minimize said criticism, there has been motions by FINA, as well as national aquatics officials to regulate and diminish the elaborate makeup. In Canada, eye makeup must be smaller than a circle made by the swimmers thumb and forefinger, and be used solely for "natural enhancement".
Underwater speakers ensure that swimmers can hear the music and aid their ability to synchronize with each other. Routines are prepared and set to counts in the music, to further ensure synchronization. Coaches use underwater speakers to communicate with the swimmers during practice. Goggles, though worn during practice, are not permitted during routine competition.
A standard meet begins with the swimmers doing "figures", which are progressions between positions performed individually without music. All swimmers must compete wearing the standard black swimsuit and white swimcap, as well as goggles and a noseclip. Figures are performed in front of a panel of 5 judges who score individual swimmers from 1 to 10 (10 being the best). The figure competition prefaces the routine events.
In the United States
In the United States, competitors are divided into groups by age. The seven age groups are: 10 and Under, 11–12, 13–15, 16–17, 18–19, Junior (elite 15–18), Senior (elite 18+), Collegiate, and Master. In addition to these groups, younger swimmers may be divided by ability into 3 levels: Novice, Intermediate, and Age Group. Seasons range in length, and some swimmers participate year-round in competitions. There are many levels of competition, including but not limited to: State, Regional, Zone, Age Group National, and US Junior and Senior Opens. Each swimmer may compete in up to three of the following routine events: solo, duet, trio, combo (consisting of eight to ten swimmers), and team (consisting of four to eight swimmers). Figure scores are combined with routines to determine the final rankings. USA Synchro's annual intercollegiate championships have been dominated by The Ohio State University, Stanford University, and The University of the Incarnate Word.
In Canada, synchronized swimming has an age-based Structure system as of 2010 with age groups 10 & under, 12 & under, and 13–15 for the provincial levels. There is also a skill level which is 13–15 and juniors (16–18) known as national stream, as well as competition at the Masters and University levels. 13–15 age group and 16–18 age group are national stream athletes that fall in line with international age groups – 15 and Under and Junior (16–18) and Senior (18+) level athletes. There are also the Wildrose age group. This is for competitors before they reach 13–15 national stream. Wildrose ranges from Tier 8 and under to 16 and over provincial/wildrose. These are also competitive levels. There are also the recreational levels which are called "stars". Synchro Canada requires that a competitor must pass Star 3 before entering Tier 1. To get into a Tier a swimmer must take a test for that Tier. In these tests, the swimmer must be able to perform the required movements for the level. (Canada no longer uses Tiers as a form of level placement). The Canadian University Synchronized Swimming League is intended for Canadian Swimmers who wish to continue their participation in the sport, as well as offering a "Novice" category for those new to the sport. Traditionally, the top teams hail from McGill University, Queens University and the University of Ottawa.
In their 2012 book Concussions and Our Kids, Dr. Robert Cantu and Mark Hyman quoted Dr. Bill Moreau, the medical director for the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), as saying, "These women are superior athletes. They're in the pool eight hours a day. Literally, they're within inches of one another, sculling and paddling. As they go through their various routines, they're literally kicking each other in the head." Dr. Moreau said that during a two-week training session in Colorado Springs, the female athletes suffered a 50% concussion rate. As a result, the USOC began reassessing concussion awareness and prevention for all sports.
Others believe the incidence of concussions among synchronized swimmers is much higher, especially among the sport's elite athletes. "I would say 100 percent of my athletes will get a concussion at some point," said Myriam Glez, chief executive of U.S.A. Synchro, the sport’s national organizing body. "It might be minor, might be more serious, but at some point or another, they will get hit."
Synchronized swimmers often suffer from tendon injuries, as the sport tends to cause muscle imbalances. Common joint injuries include the rotator cuff and the knees.
- Valosik, Vicki. "Synchronized Swimming Has a History That Dates Back to Ancient Rome". Retrieved 2016-08-19.
- Clark Leach, Father of Synchronized Swimming. *S.S Scrapbooks (1950s), Henning Library, ISHOF, 1941.
- "Kay Curtis (USA) – 1979 Honor Synchronized Swimming Coach". Archived from the original on February 1, 2014. Retrieved January 27, 2014.
- "History of Synchro". British Swimming. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
- Kremer, William (21 July 2015). "Why can't men be Olympic synchronised swimmers?". BBC. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
- Dawn Pawson Bean: Synchronized swimming – An American history. McFarland Company Inc. Publishers, Jefferson (North Carolina, USA), 2005. Page 51.
- "16th FINA World Championships". Omega Timing. Retrieved 4 September 2016.
- Becky Maltby (October–November 2007). "Into the Blue". Hana Hou! Vol. 10 No. 5.
- Concussions and Our Kids: America's Leading Expert On How To Protect Young Athletes and Keep Sports Safe, Robert Cantu, M.D. and Mark Hyman, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012, pages 35-36. Dr. Cantu is a neurologist and Mr. Hyman, a sports journalist. They have written a book for the interested layperson.
- Belson, Ken (July 18, 2016). "Synchronized Swimmers Find Danger Lurking Below Surface: Concussions". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to synchronized swimming.|
- USA Synchro United States Synchronized Swimming (USSS)
- Synchronized Swimming Canada (Canada)
- Great Britain National Team
- Go Synchro! - Further information on synchronised swimming, including pictures. Also has the history of the sport in Australia and includes contact details for Australian clubs
- "Sync or Swim" Documentary film about Synchronized swimming
- Colorado Time Systems
- Synchronised Swimming Western Australia
- International Swimming Hall of Fame, Marion Kane award summary