The sport of synchronized swimming has come a long way since its early beginnings as "water ballet" in Esther Williams’ movies. Today’s synchronized swimmer must have the grace of a ballerina, the strength and flexibility of a gymnast, the skills of a speed swimmer and water polo player, the lungs of a pearl diver, and the endurance and stamina of a long distance runner. Add to that the requirement for split-second timing and a dramatic flair for musical interpretation and choreography.
"But it looks so easy", many people say. Making a routine look easy is an important part of the sport and is just one of the things that the judges look for in competition. To get a better appreciation for the demands of this sport–imagine a gymnast performing on the balance beam while holding her breath for up to half of her routine. Now throw in additional gymnasts performing the same routine concurrently and in complete synchronization.
The training regimen of a synchronized swimmer is more demanding than many sports. Top level synchronized swimmers may train for up to 8 hours per day. Weight training, flexibility exercises, not to mention many hours spent in the pool are all part of a synchronized swimmer's workout.
Synchronized swimmers compete in teams of eight, duets and solos. Synchronized swimming has been an Olympic event since 1984. The first Olympic competitions featured only the duet and solo events. In the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the team event replaced the duet and solo competition and at the 2000 Olympics, synchronized swimming was represented with the duet and team events.
Most synchronized swimming competitions are comprised of two parts. First is the "Figure" or "Element" competition where each swimmer performs a series of technical moves individually in front of a panel of judges without music. Then comes the "Routine" competition where the swimmers perform a routine comprised of technical moves choreographed to music. Swimmers are judged on technical merit and artistic impression. The technical merit score is based on synchronization, time underwater, difficulty and how high the swimmers can propel themselves out of the water. The artistic impression score includes how well the choreography is matched to the music and the grace of the swimmers in the water. A percentage of the athlete's figure score is combined with a percentage of the routine score to determine the final score awarded.
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(Copyright of the Walnut Creek Aquanuts, 2002.)