Baku 2015 Meet the Team: Synchronised Swimming

Team GB’s young squad of synchronised swimmers impressed in the Baku 2015 qualifying event earlier this year, taking bronze in the team free eve...


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Synchronised swimming is a relatively modern sport, with evidence suggesting that German males first performed water-born artistic routines in the 1890s.

By the start of the 20th century, women took up the discipline, and Australian Annette Kellerman became a popular entertainer in the US with her displays of water acrobatics in glass tanks of water, while American Katherine Curtis continued to develop the art during World War I.

The sport developed throughout North America as water ballet, ornamental swimming, water shows and water pageants during the 1920s and 1930s, while the term ‘synchronised swimming’ is first though to have been coined by former Olympic gold-winning US swimmer Norman Ross at a much-heralded display at the Chicago World Fair in 1934.

The MGM studio’s spectacular and elaborate ‘aqua musicals’ of the 1940s and early 1950s further popularized water-born acrobatics. Their biggest star was Esther Williams, who would have represented the US as a swimmer in the 1940 Summer Games had they not been cancelled. She portrayed Annette Kellerman in the 1952 film Million Dollar Mermaid.

Rules had been developed for synchronized swimming contests prior to World War II, but weren’t recognized by swimming’s governing body, the Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur, until 1952. It first feature on an international swimming schedule for the 1973 World Championships in Belgrade, Yugoslavia.


Olympic History

Synchronised swimming – which is open only to women competitors – became an Olympic sport in the Summer Games in Los Angeles in 1984, with solo and duet events. The original were replaced by an eight-woman team event in Atlanta, USA, in 1996, but the duet returned to the Olympic program to join the team event for the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, Australia.


Synchronised swimming is one of only three Olympic disciplines in which only women can compete (the other two being rhythmic gymnastics and softball).

The swimmers require strength, flexibility, grace, artistry and long underwater endurance. To stay underwater longer athletes use a nose clip to prevent an intake of water through the nostrils. Underwater speakers transmit the music into the pool, helping the swimmers keep their synchronisation while under water.

The pool in which synchronised swimming takes place must be a minimum of 20 metres by 30 metres in length and width, with an area of 12m x 12m in the centre of the pool being at least three metres deep. Its temperature should be kept within one degree centigrade of 26C.

Competitions for both duet and team events consist of a technical routine and a free routine, both performed to music within a time limit. In the technical routine, the swimmers perform specific moves such as boosts, rockets, thrusts and twirls in a predetermined order. The free routine has no restrictions on music or moves.

Like with figure skating, the swimmers receive marks out of 10 from two sets of five judges, who measure a display’s technical merit and artistic presentation respectively. They look at the degree of difficult or risk of the moves, how well they are executed and how innovative the performance’s choreography is.


This should be a swimsuit suitable for sports competition and must not be transparent.

The dimensions of the pool should be no less than 20 metres by 30m. There must be a 12m by 12m area in the centre of the pool that is a minimum of 3m deep. The temperature of the water should be maintained around 26 degrees Celsius, and can only fluctuate by one degree in either direction.

Underwater Speakers
These must be fitted to allow the music to be played within the pool itself.

It is forbidden to wear goggles

Nose Clip
A plastic nose clip with a rubber coating is allowed to stop water entering the nose.


Technical routine

This includes obligatory elements in a prescribed order. The time limit is 2m20s for the duet or 2m50s for the team competition. Two panels of five judges each reward half the marks for technique and artistic performance respectively. Swimmers lose two points for performing technical elements in the wrong order or for holding on to the side of the pool.


Free choice routine

This involves presentation of a composition with own-choice technical elements combined with choreography. Again there is a time limit of 3m30s for the duet and four minutes for the team display, with two panels of five judges awarding marks for technique and artistic performance respectively.

The results for these two routines are combined to produce the final ranking.

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