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Articles: Synchronised swimming

Synchronised Swimming

Synchronised swimming is a sport which combines swimming, gymnastics, and dance. Competitors present routines to music whilst swimming in a pool that depend on skill, power, and creativity to secure a points victory. Main difficulty being that multiple participants must perform the routine as synchronously as possible.

Historically, the sport was known as water ballet, and the first ever competition was held in 1891 in Berlin, Germany. The sport grew in Canada and the United Kingdom. In the United States, water ballet gained popularity in 1907, when Australian Annette Kellerman performed in a tank at the New York Hippodrome. The first US synchronised swimming contest was held in 1939 in Chicago. Although today it’s a female only sport, there were some male synchronised swimmers prior to 1940 and 1950. Swimmer and movie star Esther Williams helped popularize the sport in the 40’s and 50’s through elaborate musical sequences in many of her movies. In 1952, the sport entered the Olympics for the first time, although it did not become a full time Olympic sport until 1984 in Los Angeles.

Today, the sport is popular in the USA, Canada, Germany, China, Australia, and the UK. It is a full Olympic competition, with events for both teams and duets.

The sport of synchronised swimming

Synchronised swimming is performed mainly by women, from juniors to adults. Men are barred from synchronised swimming events in the Olympics but have recently been allowed in World Championship and other international events.

Synchronised swimming takes place in a deep pool, since contestants need a pool with sufficient depth to be able to pull off some of their tricks. The pool has underwater speakers so that the athletes can hear the music while submerged, in order to choreograph their routine. Pools must be at least 30 meters long by 20 meters wide, and a minimum of 3 meters deep.

Swimmers wear custom-made one piece suits, which, although heavily decorated, do not score points. Competitors also wear heavy make-up designed to accent the eyes and bring out the emotion in the piece. The hair is pulled back and held in place with clear flavourless gelatine, a decorative head piece is held in place with a bobby pin. While no points are given for the decoration, if the hair piece falls off or the swimmer’s hair comes loose, there are penalty points deducted. Swimmers also wear nose clips to keep the water out of their nose when submerged inverted.

Depending on the type of event, routines last from 2.5 to 5 minutes for each routine.

How a competition begins

Similar to high board diving, teams are allocated a starting order by ballot. The athletes then prepare and are called on the deck. When their allocated start time arrives, they go to the start platform. Competitors start from a platform on the side of the pool, and the elaborate and acrobatic water entry is judged as part of the routine.

The rules of synchronised swimming

Synchronised swimming is governed by FINA (the Fédération Internationale de Natation), which is responsible for all global competitions and the rules of the sport. Each event is judged by a panel of 5 judges, who judge each performance based on the following criteria: technical merit and artistic impression. Factors such as technical skills, patterns, expression, and synchronization are crucial to achieving a high score.

Swimmers perform 2 routines: a technical routine, which all the participants have to perform, and a free routine. This includes pre-set moves in a set sequence. The free routine is up to the athletes or teams and allows them to get creative. Each performance is judged out of 100 and the judges scores are averaged.

While all the athletes are free to perform in any way they see fit, one of the main rules of the event is that no swimmer can touch the sides or bottom at any point during the routine.

Competing tactics

There is very little tactics involved in synchronised swimming competitions, since each time a team goes into the pool, the objective is to score the most points possible. Coaches play an important role in choreographing the best possible routine, that will give their contestants the highest score possible. Once the competition has started, the coach’s main role is to be able to help the athletes focus and get into the “Zone” and perform at the best of their abilities.

Synchronised swimming competitions

The pinnacle of the sport is the Olympics games, which has competitions for teams and duets. The second most important competitions are the bi annual World Aquatics Championships, and the Synchronised Swimming World Cup which is held every 4 years. Both championship events have events in all seven disciplines from solo, duet, and teams. There are combination and technical events as well.

Most competitions are organised as a series of rounds, with points being awarded for each performance.

There are no real professional synchronised swimmers, most of the top athletes are supported by their national federations, or through corporate sponsorship. Most national swimmers come through the ranks and as their skills increase, they are promoted to higher and higher national teams.

Betting on synchronised swimming

The betting market on synchronised swimming is underdeveloped. Betting tends to be only on the major televised events, and is generally restricted to straight up bets on event winners.