Summer Olympics Synchronized Swimming: A History

Abstract: The 2012 London Summer Olympic Games are almost here, and synchronized swimming will be one of the Olympic events. This article briefly touches on the sport's Olympic history.

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Many Americans are probably unfamiliar with synchronized swimming. It does not enjoy the same level of popularity in the U.S. as sports like football, baseball, and basketball.

Per United States Synchronized Swimming (USSS), only six colleges and universities offer it as a varsity sport. Therefore, Americans may be surprised to learn that synchronized swimming has been an Olympic sporting event (for women only) since 1984, and that the U.S. has come away with medals on several occasions.

About the Sport

According to The Telegraph, synchronized swimming was originally called "water ballet," and the moniker seems to be appropriate. Competitors execute a series of choreographed moves in water, which may include "substantial twists, thrusts, rockets and boosts."

At the 2012 London Summer Olympics (which run from July 27 through Aug. 12) swimmers can compete either in the "duets" competition or in the "teams" event. In both cases, competitors perform a technical routine, consisting of a series of required movements, and a free routine, which allows each duet or team to "perform [its] own choreographed material." Per the 2012 London Summer Olympics' official website, each routine is worth 50 percent of the total score. The top 12 duets will perform a second free routine, which will replace the earlier one.

Synchronized Swimming's History as an Olympic Sport

Per ESPN, synchronized swimming "was an exhibition sport [at the Summer Olympics] from 1948 to 1968." It was not added to the Olympic roster as a "full medal sport" until the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Calif. According to the International Olympic Committee's website, the L.A. Olympics featured two synchronized swimming events, a solo competition and a duets event. As a Sports Illustrated article notes, in both competitions, swimmers performed a series of set figures (stationary poses) as well as a free routine. Per the IOC's website, this "programme [sic] remained the same for the Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992 Games."

The IOC's website notes that the Committee replaced the solo and duets events with a teams competition at the 1996 Summer Games in Atlanta, while also, per The Washington Post, exchanging the figures portion of the contest with a technical routine.

Per the IOC's website, the duets competition was added back to Summer Olympics program in 2000. The teams and duets events have been featured staples of the Summer Olympics ever since.

Medal Winners

Per The Washington Post, the United States, Canada, and Japan won every synchronized swimming Olympic medal between 1984 and 1996. The Americans were especially dominant during this period, snagging "four golds and two silvers." Per the USSS site, the tide began to turn in 2000, when Russia earned the gold medal and the Americans were shut out. The U.S. has only won two Olympic medals (both bronze) in the sport since then. On the other hand, the Russian Federation of Synchronized Swimming notes that its teams have collected every Olympic gold medal in synchronized swimming since 2000.

Future of Synchronized Swimming as an Olympic Sport

Synchronized swimming has been a staple of the Summer Olympics since 1984, and I could not find any documents indicating that the sport is in danger of being removed as an Olympic event in the near future.

-- Anthony Hopper

#swimming #synchronizedswimming #Olympics #SummerOlympics #history #sportshistory #sports

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