HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Synchronised swimming is a hybrid form of swimming, dance and gymnastics, consisting of swimmers (either solos, duets, trios, or teams) performing a synchronized routine of elaborate moves in the water, accompanied by music. 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. Synchronised swimming is governed internationally by FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation).

History

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 within several countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the USA. 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.

While exclusively a sport performed by men in its first days, it quickly became a women’s sport because the nature of the physical movements are more suitable to the female physique (i.e. center of gravity). In 1907, Australian Annette Kellerman popularized the sport when she performed in a glass tank as an underwater ballerina 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. Synchronised swimming competition took place at Wright Junior College between Wright and the Chicago Teachers’ College.

Routine

Routines are composed of «hybrids» (leg movements) and arm or stroke sections. They often incorporate lifts or throws, an impressive move in which a group of swimmers lift or throw another swimmer out of the water. Swimmers are synchronized 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, expression, 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.

The type of routine and competition level determines the length of routines. Routines typically last two and a half to five minutes long, the shortest being solos, with length added as the number of swimmers are 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 both artistic impression and technical merit. The artistic mark is worth 50% of the total and the technical mark is worth 50%.

Synchro as an Olympic sport

Although first demonstrated at the 1952 Olympic Games, 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 both were 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.

Back