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What is Olympic Synchronized Swimming?

The Basics Of Olympic Synchronized Swimming


Team Free Routine

Here, three teammates hold one more aloft, treading water, wtih other team members underwater aslo treading.

Scott Barbour/Allsport/Getty Images
What is Olympic Synchronized Swimming? Once called water ballet, it is moving through the water with intricate maneuvers, synchronized with other swimmers and with music. Synchronized Swimming, a women's only sport at the Olympic level, was an exhibition sport at the Olympic Games from 1948 to 1968, then became a full-fledged Summer Olympic sport in 1984. At the 1984, 1988, and 1992 games there were solo and duet events. In 1996, only a team event was held. Since 2000, a team event and a duet event has been held.


There are two events in Olympic Synchronized Swimming Competition, the Duet and Team Events (there are similarities in competition basics between synchronized swimming and figure skating). For each event, the swimmers perform a technical and a free routine, accompanied by music, completing each routine within a strict time limit.

The technical routine requires the swimmers to perform specific movements in a specific order. The free routine is free of requirements - the swimmers may perform any moves in any order, choreographed any way they choose.


Olympic synchronized swimming is held in a 26C/79F (+/- 1 degree) pool that is at least 20-meters wide by 30-meters long, and the swimming pool must have a 12-meter by 12-meter area that is at least 3-meters deep. The pool must also have underwater speakers to help the swimmers keep up with the the music - synchronized!

The swimmers wear customized suits that are pre-approved by FINA (FINA is the international governing body for aquatic sports). The suits must not be too revealing. The swimmers wear make-up, put gelatin in their hair, and wear nose clips (to help them hold their breath). Synchronized swimmers are not allowed to wear goggles in competition.


The Olympic medals are awarded based on total points earned by the swimmers. Two 5-judge panels watch the routines and award points on a scale of 0-10. One panel scores technical merit and the other scores artistic impression. All of the judges are watching the difficulty for each movement, how well the routine is executed and synchronized, and how easy the swimmers make it look (easier looking but actually very hard is better!). The highest score wins gold, second wins silver, and third win bronze. There could be ties in scoring, in which case both earn that medal.

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