Synchronized swimming is a hybrid of swimming, gymnastics, and dance, consisting of swimmers (either individuals, duets, teams or combos) performing a synchronized routine of elaborate and dramatic moves in the water, accompanied by music.
Synchronized swimming demands some water skills, and requires incredible strength, endurance, flexibility, grace, artistry and precise timing, not to mention exceptional breath control while upside down underwater. Developed in the early 1900s in Canada, it is a sport performed almost exclusively by women. In its early form it was sometimes known as "water ballet".
It is a Summer Olympic Games sport. First demonstrated in 1952, it has been an official event since 1984. Olympic and World Championship competition is not currently open to men, but other international and national competitions allow male competitors. Both USA Synchro and Synchro Canada allow men to compete with women.
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.
Synchronized Swimming is governed internationally by FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur).
- Synchronized swimming is about the execution of precision movements on, above and beneath the water performed to music.
- To illustrate, imagine a gymnast performing underwater. Or, consider a 400-meter runner, running without breathing. Or, think of an ice skater perfecting figure movements in an unstable medium.
- Synchronized swimming is a dancer's artistic flair in choreographing routines, plus a water polo player's power and strength needed to extend out of the water, plus a long distance swimmer's lung capacity developed for endurance.
Add to that the combination of grace, fluidity and synchronization of an entire team and then there is Synchronized swimming.
When performing routines, competitors will typically wear a nose-clip. Hair is worn in a bun on the head and flavourless gelatin is used to keep hair in place. Goggles are not worn because they take away from the overall performance. Competitors also wear custom swimsuits and headpieces, usually elaborately decorated, to reflect the type of music to which they are swimming. The costume and music are not judged directly, but factor into the overall performance and "artistic impression". Heavy eye makeup is often worn to help portray the emotions involved with the routine, but it is not necessary. Underwater speakers ensure that swimmers can hear the music at all times.
Levels of competition
In the United States the competitions are divided into the following age groups: Age Group, Juniors (elite 14-18), Seniors (elite 18 and over), Collegiate, and Masters. Within each competition there are different levels determined by age, point score or affiliation (for example, novice, intermediate, age group, junior (14 and up), senior, varsity, club, master, etc. Individual swimmers may compete in up to three events, solo, duet, trio, and team. A team consists of four to eight swimmers, with .25 points added to the final score for each swimmer over the minimum of four. Swimmers also compete in individual figures and technical elements, which in some levels of competition are sometimes factored in with routine scores. Also, competition rules may limit the number of events that each team can participate in.
In Canada synchronized swimming has a skill-based Tier Structure system with Tiers 1-7 as well as competition at the Masters and University levels. Tiers 6 and 7 are national stream athletes that fall in line with international age groups - Tier 6 is 15 and Under and Tier 7 is Junior (15-18) and Senior (18+) level athletes.
In the UK competitions include county level, regional level through to the national age group competition usually held towards the end of the year. Competitors are split by age group, 12 and under, 13 & 14, 15/16/17, and 18 and over. To compete in the competitive strand of competitions swimmers must hold the required skill level for their age group. Recreational strands of competitions are also present to allow those competitors who have not achieved the desired level. Swimmers compete through figures, duets, teams and combination routines.
Sculls are the basic elements of synchronized swimming and they are combined with one or more positions to form a figure, or complete movement. Figures can be combined with transition elements, such as above the water arm movements, and set to music, to form a routine. For more information about figures, USSS (United States Synchronized Swimming) publishes yearly a handbook of all the figures, including explanations and step-by-step drawings, that are recognized in the United States. It is available from their website.
Sculls, or movements used to propel the body, are the most essential part to synchronized swimming. Commonly used sculls include head-first, foot-first, torpedo, dolphin, reverse scoop, split, barrel, paddle, support and canoe sculls. The support scull is used to support the body when a swimmer is completing a movement upside-down and underwater. 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. The lower arms are then moved back and forth while maintaining the right angle.
Beating an egg or an "eggbeater" 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.
There are hundreds of different regular positions and infinite combinations of positions. These are a few basic and commonly used ones:
- Vertical position: Achieved by holding the body completely straight upside down and perpendicular to the surface.
- Crane position: While holding a vertical body position, one leg is vertical while the other is horizontal parallel to the surface making a 90-degree angle.
- Vertical bent knee: Similar to the vertical position, but one knee is bent with the toe touching the inside of the vertical leg.
- Ballet Leg: Beginning in a back layout, one leg is extended and held perpendicular to the body, while the other is held straight along the surface of the water.
- Split position: With the body verical, one leg is stretched forward along the surface and the other extended back along the surface.
Further descriptions of technical positions can be found on the International Olympic Committee website
Routines are composed of "hybrids", figures, and arm 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, the swimmers will perform a free routine - no specific choreography requirement - and either a technical routine with predetermined elements or technical elements - a sequence of positions performed individually in from on a panel of judges.
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 and teams).
In technical competitions, solo swimmers have only two minutes to perform their routine. In free routines solos are three minutes, duets three and a half minutes and teams four minutes.
Scoring: Routines are scored on a scale of 100, with points for both artistic impression and technical merit. The artistic mark is worth 60% of the total and the technical mark is worth 40%.
Combination (Combo) Routine:
A new category has recently been incorporated into international Synchronized Swimming called the Combination Routine. In this event, up to ten swimmers compete a single continuous routine with two segments of team, two segments of duet and two segments of solo. During parts of the routine when some swimmers are not performing, they tread water alongside without touching the side or bottom of the pool. It is up to the discretion of the coach to determine the combinations of swimmers who will swim. The degree of involvement for any specific swimmer may vary. For example, a single swimmer may compete in both duet segments with two different partners or a swimmer may only perform in a single solo segment of the routine. This event is new but is gaining popularity with teams and audiences on an international level.
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