The sport of artistic swimming, formerly known as synchronized swimming, has come a long way since its early beginnings as "water ballet" in Esther Williams' movies. Today’s artistic 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 an artistic swimmer is more demanding than many sports. Top level artistic 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 an artistic swimmer's workout. Competitive artistic swimmers of all levels compete in teams of eight, and in duets and solos. Competitive Intermediate level swimmers may also compete in trios.
Artistic 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, artistic swimming was represented with the duet and team events. Most artistic swimming competitions are comprised of two parts. The "Figure" or "Element" competition requires each swimmer to perform a series of technical moves individually in front of a panel of judges without music. The "Routine" competition requires the swimmers to 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. The athlete's or team's final score is comprised of 50% of the figure score and 50% of the routine score.
At Senior U.S. Nationals, the Olympic Games and other senior level international competitions, teams perform an additional "technical" routine instead of individual figures. Each competing team must incorporate a set of required figures and elements into their technical routine so that they may be equally judged on their technical skills. A percentage of their technical routine score is combined with a free routine score to determine the final score awarded. For more information about the sport of synchronized swimming, visit the USA Artistic Swimming web site.