Artistic swimming (often abbreviated to Synchro) is a hybrid form of swimming, dance and gymnastics, consisting of swimmers (either solos, duets, combos, or teams) performing a synchronized routine of elaborate moves in the water, accompanied by music. Artistic swimming demands advanced water skills, and requires great strength, endurance, flexibility, grace, artistry and precise timing, as well as exceptional breath control.
Depending on the age category swimmers are required to perform either figures and/or free routines (Junior) or technical and free routines (Senior and Masters). Competitors show off their strength, flexibility, and aerobic endurance required to perform difficult routines. Junior swimmers also need strength, endurance, flexibility and the ability to perform figures exactly to the specifications in the rules.
Routines are composed of “hybrids” (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 one or more swimmers 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. After the performance, the swimmers are judged and scored on their performance based on Execution (including synchronization), Artistic Impression (choreography, music interpretation and manner of presentation) and Difficulty (free routines) or Execution (including synchronization of the entire routine), Impression (choreography, music interpretation, manner of presentation and difficulty) and individual scores for each of the 5 required Elements (technical routines). Technical skills, patterns, manner of presentation, choreograhpy and synchronization are all critical to achieving a high score.
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 for Seniors. In addition to the technical routine, the Senior swimmers will perform a longer “free” routine, which has no requirements and allows for the opportunity to be creative and innovative with the choreography.
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, teams, and free combination). Age and skill level are other important factors in determining the required routine length.
Routines are scored from 0 – 100. For Free Routines the Execution score is worth 30%, the Artistic Impression score is worth 40% and the Difficulty score is worth 30%. For Technical Routines the Execution score is worth 30%, the Impression score is worth 30% and the Elements score is worth 40%.
When performing routines in competition and practice, competitors will typically wear a noseclip to keep water from entering their nose when submerged. Hair is worn up and flavorless gelatin is applied to keep hair in place. Competitors also wear custom swimsuits and headpieces, usually elaborately decorated with bright fabric and sequins to reflect the type of music to which they are swimming. The costume and music are not judged but the interpretation of the music is part of the Artistic Impression score. Underwater speakers ensure that swimmers can hear the music at all times and also aid in their ability to synchronize with each other. Routines are prepared and set to counts in the music, to further ensure synchronization. Coaches also use underwater speakers to communicate with the swimmers during practice. Goggles, though worn during practice, are not permitted during routine competition, though exceptions can be made if a swimmer has been granted medical exemption.
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 within several countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and the USA. 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. artistic 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 from Canada as the first champion. Although first demonstrated at the 1952 Olympic Games, artistic swimming did not become an official Olympic sport until the 1984 Summer Olympic Games. It was not until 1968 that artistic 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 favour of team competition. At the 2000 Olympic Games, however, the duet competition was restored and is now featured alongside the team competition.
In October 2017, as voted upon at the 2017 FINA Congress, Synchro Swimming officially changed names to Artistic Swimming.