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Synchronized Swimming

Updated: 2006-08-19 15:21

Synchronized Swimming Synchronized Swimming

It looks like perhaps the most effortless event in the Olympic Games, but there is more to synchronised swimming than what appears on the surface. Besides demanding strength, endurance, flexibility, grace and artistry, it requires exceptional breath control.

Synchronized Swimming
The Italian synchronized swimming team competes in the team final during the European Aquatic Championships in Budapest, Hungary, July 30, 2006. The Italian team won the bronze medallion. [Reuters]

Unusual, but vital, equipment helps the women maintain the illusion of effortlessness, no simple task considering they perform strenuous movements upside down and underwater while holding their breath. A nose clip prevents water from entering the nose, allowing the swimmers to remain underwater for long periods. Gelatine keeps the hair in place. Make-up brings out the features.

Most importantly, an underwater speaker lets the swimmers hear the music clearly while underwater, helping them achieve the split-second timing critical to synchronised swimming.

Originally known as water ballet, synchronised swimming began in Canada in the 1920s. It spread to the United States in the early '30s, where a display at the 1934 Chicago World's Fair drew rave reviews. Its popularity soared further when Esther Williams performed in a string of MGM "aqua musicals" in the 1940s and '50s.


Synchronised swimming emerged as an exhibition sport at the Olympic Games from 1948 to 1968, then debuted as a full medal sport in Los Angeles in 1984. It is open only to women, with medals offered in two events: duet and team.

Competition for both events consists of a technical routine and a free routine, each performed to music within a time limit. In the technical routine, swimmers perform specific moves in a set order, including boosts, rockets, thrusts and twirls. In the free routine there are no restrictions on music or choreography. Judges of each routine look for a high degree of difficulty and risk, flawless execution, innovative choreography and seemingly effortless performance.

The judging for synchronised swimming resembles the judging for figure skating. Two panels of five judges assess a performance, one panel scoring technical merit and the other assessing artistic impression. In both cases, each judge awards a mark out of a possible 10.


Duet Women   Team Women