While elements of synchronized swimming are as old as swimming itself, the specifics of the sport – unified movement of multiple swimmers in time to music – grew out of ornamental swimming and theatrical water ballets in the late 19th century. The first competitions, featuring men only, were held in Berlin and London in the early 1890s, but artistic swimming was soon accepted as better suited for women, who were more buoyant and able to make better pictures with their bodies on the surface of the water.
The sport’s biggest boost came from travelling water shows and Hollywood. In 1907 Australian Annette Kellerman began performing around the world in a glass tank before appearing in numerous water ballets on film. In 1952 her life story inspired the movie Million Dollar Mermaid, one of MGM’s “aqua musicals”. The term “synchronized swimming” was coined at the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago where crowds of up to 10,000 people watched a group of 60 swimmers known as the Modern Mermaids perform figures to music.
Also in 1952, the first international rules were adopted and the sport joined FINA. Synchronized swimming made its Pan American Games debut in 1955 before being added to the Olympic program at Los Angeles 1984. The solo and duet events were featured until Atlanta 1996 when they were eliminated in favour of the team event. The duet was reinstated at Sydney 2000.
Synchronized swimming features two types of routines: technical and free. The technical routine includes required elements which must be performed in a specific order while free routines may consist of any figures and strokes.
In both events, three panels of five judges evaluate each routine. Competitors are awarded points from 0 to 10, using tenths of a point as follows:
Perfect 10 Near perfect 9.9 to 9.5
Excellent 9.4 – 9.0 Very Good 8.9 – 8.0
Good 7.9 – 7.0 Competent 6.9 – 6.0
Satisfactory 5.9 – 5.0 Deficient 4.9 – 4.0
Weak 3.9 – 3.0 Very weak 2.9 – 2.0
Hardly recognizable 1.9 – 0.1 Completely failed 0
In technical routines, the first panel evaluates the execution, the second evaluates the impression and the third evaluates the elements. The execution score, counting for 30%, takes equally into account the movements that do not have an assigned degree of difficulty and the synchronization with teammates and music. The impression score, counting for 30%, takes into account the difficulty as well as the choreography, music interpretation and manner of presentation. The elements score, counting for 40%, takes into account the required elements that have an assigned degree of difficulty.
In free routines, the first panel evaluates the execution, the second evaluates the artistic impression and the third evaluates difficulty. The execution score, counting for 30%, takes equally into account the execution of all movements and the synchronization with teammates and music. The artistic impression score, counting for 40%, takes into account the choreography, music interpretation and manner of presentation. The difficulty score, counting for 30%, takes into account the difficulty of all movements and synchronization.