If one synchronized swimmer drowns, do the rest have to drown too?

This is an unbelievably common question that non-swimmers ask me when they discover that I used to be a synchronized swimmer. The honest and truthful answer is no, obviously if the safety of a swimmer was in jeopardy, the attending lifeguard would jump in and take the swimmer to safety. Depending on the referee at the competition, the entire team may or may not be able to re-swim the routine. This common riddle does, however, bring up other questions about synchronized swimming.

If the swimmers are not synchronized, then why is the word “synchronized” in the sport’s title?

As one can infer from the sport’s title, synchronization is a key component of synchronized swimming; however, it is not the most important element of the sport. As I mentioned in a previous post, the original term for synchronized swimming was “water ballet” and later “rhythmic swimming”. The most likely reason for the eventual change to “synchronized swimming” is the enormous change in the definition of the sport itself. Synchronized swimming was not a competitive sport in its early forms. The routines consisted mostly of floats, like the one shown in this picture from the 1970s, and variations of basic swim strokes, as the first synchronized swimmers were competitive lap swimmers.

Common synchronized swimming float from the 1970s

Floats are not nearly as common in synchronized swimming today, and as shown in the many videos posted throughout this blog, synchronized swimming moves today are much more advanced, quick-paced, and intricate. As this transformation occurred, the sport’s name changed in order to incorporate the more important aspects of the sport. The change from water ballet to rhythmic swimming demonstrated that the sport was much more than simply “dancing in the water”, as so many people describe synchronized swimming as today. Rhythmic swimming mimicked rhythmic gymnastics, and this marked the recognition of the sport as a combination of dance, gymnastics, and swimming. Finally the title “synchronized swimming” was established, and it was under this name that the sport made its first appearance in the 1984 Summer Olympic Games.

If being synchronized is not the most important element of synchronized swimming, then what is?

In the Olympics, there are two routine events, the duet and the team. Each duet and team must perform two routines, a technical and a free, in order to receive their total team score. The technical routine is much shorter than the free routine and its choreography is much more restricted. During the technical routines, the swimmers must perform certain required elements – like during the “figures” competition, which I wrote about in my last post. Failure to complete any of these elements in the 2:50 time frame for technical routines will result in a penalty. These two routines, the technical and the free, are judged slightly differently. 70% of a technical routine score is based on how well the required elements are performed, and the remaining 30% is judged according to choreography and other non-required aspects of the routine.

Here is an example of a technical duet*:

The scoring for the free routines is much more convoluted, as the score is divided into technical merit and artistic impression scores. The technical merit score for the free routine is broken down into three categories:

  1. Execution, worth 40%
  2. Synchronization, worth 30%
  3. Difficulty, worth 30%

The artistic impression score for the free routine is also broken down into three categories:

  1. Choreography, worth 50%
  2. Synchronization, worth 25%
  3. Difficulty, worth 25%

Here is an example of the same two swimmers, swimming their free routine**:

Although synchronization is included in all scoring aspects of the sport, it is not the most important part of the sport. Because of how far synchronized swimming has come in the last century, its purpose and elements of performance have developed along with the sport.

How can a swimmer swim a solo routine if she has no one to synchronize with?

Even though there is no other person to be synchronized with, a swimmer can perform and compete with a solo routine. The solo routine was an Olympic event until 1992, when it was removed to allow room for the team event. Because synchronized swimming consists of so many technical and artistic elements, the solo competition is popular. A soloist’s routine, however, is not judged the same as a duet or team routine. The breakdown for a solo free routine is as follows, for both the technical merit and artistic impression scores:

  1. Execution, worth 50%
  2. Synchronization, worth 20%
  3. Difficulty, worth 30%

The synchronization that this scoring breakdown refers to is synchronization with the music and synchronization with the self. All synchronized swimming routines are intricately choreographed, and it is obvious to judges when the swimmer makes a mistake and becomes unsynchronized with the music.

Countdown to London 2012: 134 days!

Spain Final Duet Technical, Synchronized Swimming, Shanghai World Championships 2011, RecintoMoxo, 7/18/11, 3/15/12

** Spain Final Duet Free, Synchronized Swimming, Shanghai World Championships 2011, RecintoMoxo, 7/22/11, 3/15/12

Picture Credit: Meredith Alumnae, fellow WordPress blogger http://beyondthebackgate.wordpress.com/tag/aqua-angels/

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