• Padmja Sopori

Underwater Ballet

Don’t be fooled by the elegance and artistry – synchronised swimming, combining acrobatics, swimming and dance, is one of the toughest disciplines of them all, demanding high levels of stamina, athleticism and lung capacity. Originally known as “water ballet”, synchronised swimming first emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, when an Australian swimmer, Annette Kellerman, toured the USA performing water acrobatics in a glass tank.

Chicago-based swimming coach Katharine Curtis came up with the idea to combine water acrobatics with music, with her students performing at the 1933-34 Chicago “Century of Progress” Fair, where the announcer, Olympic swimming gold medallist Norman Ross, coined the term “synchronised swimming”. The sport was taken to an even wider audience in the 1940s and early 1950s, as American swimmer and actress Esther Williams starred in a series of “aqua musicals”, which featured elaborate synchronised swimming performances. At around the same time, the discipline itself was developing further thanks to a set of rules which added a competitive element.

Competitive Synchronised Swimming

Synchronised swimming demands advanced water skills, requires great strength, endurance, flexibility, grace, artistry and precise timing, as well as exceptional breath control when upside down underwater. Competitors show off their strength, flexibility, and aerobic endurance required to perform difficult routines. Swimmers perform two routines for judges, one technical and one free, as well as age group routines and figures. Synchronized swimming is both an individual and team sport. Swimmers compete individually during figures, and then as a team during the routine. Figures are made up of a combination of skills and positions that often require control, strength, and flexibility. The routine involves teamwork and synchronisation. It is choreographed to music and often has a theme.

Since the 20th century, synchronised swimming has predominantly been considered a women's sport, with the Summer Olympics only featuring women's duet and team events. However, international, national and regional competitions may allow men to compete, and recently a new mixed duet competition was introduced at the 2015 World Aquatics Championships.