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Synchronized swimming

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Title: Synchronized swimming  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: July 2011 in sports, María Elena Giusti, Laure Thibaud, Virginie Dedieu, Chloé Isaac
Collection: Aquatics, Summer Olympic Sports, Synchronized Swimming, Team Sports
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Synchronized swimming

Synchronized swimming
Russian synchronized swimming team, May 2007
Highest governing body Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA)
Type Aquatics
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 synchronized routine of elaborate moves in the water, accompanied by music. Although solos are not used in the Olympics, athletes training in clubs can do solos and compete in competitions. A recent addition to the Olympic repertoire is the event of mixed pairs, allowing men to compete with a female duet partner.

Synchronized 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 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.

Olympic and World Championship competition is not open to men, but other international and national competitions allow male competitors. 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.

Synchronized 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.

Synchronized swimming is governed internationally by FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation).


  • History 1
  • Origins 2
  • Synchro as an Olympic sport in post war 3
  • World championships and synchro 4
  • Basic skills 5
    • Sculls 5.1
    • Eggbeater 5.2
  • Lifts 6
    • Parts of a successful lift 6.1
    • Types of lifts 6.2
  • Positions 7
  • Routine 8
    • Technical vs. free routines 8.1
    • Length of routines 8.2
    • Scoring 8.3
  • Preparation 9
  • Competitions 10
    • Figures 10.1
    • In the United States 10.2
    • In Canada 10.3
  • Injuries 11
  • See also 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14


At the turn of the 20th century, synchronized 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 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.[1] 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 the 1940s and 1950s, before men were banned from national competitions in World War II, Donn Squire and Bert Hubbard were important male synchronized swimmers in the USA.[2]


In 1933 & 1934, 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). See a photo of Motherwell's Rhythmic Swimming Display, 1946.(HIIIII)

Curtis made Synchronized Swimming an officially recognized sport by the AAU in December 1941, but would herself be transferred overseas in 1943. She was the Recreation Director of the Red Cross under Generals Patton & 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. She was officially recognized along with Annette Kellerman by the Helms Hall of Fame in 1959 - Curtis as with the primary development of Synchronized Swimming. In 1979, the International Swimming Hall of Fame inducted Curtis with similar accolades.[3]

A National A.A.U. champion swimmer, Esther Williams, would also largely popularize synchronized 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 80s, Ft. Lauderdale swimming champion Charkie Phillips revived water ballet on television with The Krofftettes in The Brady Bunch Hour (1976–77), NBC's The Big Show (1980), and then on screen with Miss Piggy in The Great Muppet Caper (1981)

Synchro as an Olympic sport in post war

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 synchronized swimming did not become an official Olympic sport until the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.[4] It was not until 1968 that synchronized 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.
Event 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004 2008 2012 Years
Women's team       5
Women's duet   7
Women's solo           3
Total Events 2 2 2 1 2 2 2 2

World championships and synchro

Synchronised swimming is 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 add. 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.

Event 1973 1975 1978 1982 1986 1991 1994 1998 2001 2003 2005 2007 2009 2011 2013 Years
Women's combination 6
Women's free team 15
Women's technical team 4
Women's free duet 15
Women's technical duet 4
Women's free solo 15
Women's technical solo 4
Total Events 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 3 4 4 7 7 7 7

Basic skills


Sculls (hand movements used to propel the body) are the most essential part to synchronized swimming. Commonly used sculls include support scull, stationary scull, propeller scull, alligator scull, torpedo scull, split-arm scull, barrel 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 lower arms at 90-degree angles to the body, with hands facing the bottom of the pool. The lower 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 swimming. Other sculls used in training include propeller and reverse propeller.


The "eggbeater kick" is another important skill of synchronized swimming. It is a form of treading water that allows for stability and height above the water while leaving the hands free to perform strokes. An average eggbeater height is usually around chest level. Eggbeater is used in all "arm" sections, a piece of coreography in which the swimmer is upright, often with one or both arms in the air. Another variation is a boost, which is executed through an eggbeater buildup and a strong whip kick, propelling the swimmer out of the water vertically. Eggbeating for a considerable period is also referred to as an "aquabob" and is used to build propulsion under water prior to a boost or pop-up.


A member of the Japanese team is thrown up in the air during the team's free routine at the 2013 French Open.

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 synchronized 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 Chair or The Plank 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 oldest form. In a platform, the base 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 Liftis 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.


Jiang Tingting and Jiang Wenwen of China perform during the duet technical routine at the 2013 French Open.

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.
  • 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.
  • Sailboat: Similar to the back layout, but one knee is bent with the toe touching the inside of the other leg, which remains parallel to the surface.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Vertical: Achieved by holding the body completely straight upside down and perpendicular to the surface usually with both legs entirely out of water.
  • 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.
  • Bent Knee: 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.
  • Split position: With the body vertical, one leg is stretched forward along the surface and the other extended back along the surface.
  • 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.
  • Side Fishtail: Side fishtail is a position similar to a crane. One leg remains vertical, while the other is extended out to the side parallel to the water, creating a side "Y" position.
  • side "Y": – this is used in catalina (13-15 provincial and national, junior and senior level)

Tub: Both legs are pulled up to the chest. Further descriptions of technical positions can be found on the International Olympic Committee website.


Routines are composed of "figures" (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.

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 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%.


Eye makeup of the Japanese synchronized swimmer Yumi Adachi.

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. Other artistic sports, such as gymnastics and ice skating, do not employ the same makeup practices.)

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

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 book 2012 Concussions and Our Kids, Dr. Robert Cantu and Mark Hyman reported that Dr. Bill Moreau, who serves as medical director for the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), reported that during a two-week training session in Colorado Springs about a dozen women athletes participating suffered a 50% concussion rate. Dr. Moreau noted, "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." As a result, the USOC initiated a process of reassessing concussion awareness and prevention for all sports. Dr. Moreau says that many athletes in non-collision sports "aren't thinking about head injury and don't know they've had concussions."[5]

See also


  1. ^ Clark Leach, Father of Synchronized Swimming. *S.S Scrapbooks (1950s), Henning Library, ISHOF, 1941.
  2. ^ Dawn Pawson Bean: Synchronized swimming - An American history.(E-Book) McFarland Company Inc. Publishers, Jefferson (North Carolina, USA), 2005. Contains information about Donn Squire and Bert Hubbard on page 51.
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Becky Maltby (October–November 2007). "Into the Blue".  
  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.

External links

  • USA Synchro United States Synchronized Swimming (USSS)
  • Synchronized Swimming Canada (Canada)
  • Great Britain National Team
  • -Further information on synchronized swimming, including pictures. Also has the history of the sport in Australia and includes contact details for Australian clubsGo Synchro!
  • "Sync or Swim" Documentary film about synchronized swimming
  • Colorado Time Systems
  • Synchronized Swimming Western Australia
  • International Swimming Hall of Fame, Marion Kane award summary
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