Frequently Asked Questions about artistic (Synchronized) Swimming!

Q:  What is artistic (synchronized) swimming?

A: The sport of synchronized swimming has come a long way since its early beginnings as "water ballet" in Esther Williams’ movies. Today’s synchronized swimmer must have the grace of a ballerina, the strength and flexibility of a gymnast, the skills of a speed swimmer and water polo player, the lungs of a pearl diver, and the endurance and stamina of a long distance runner. Add to that the requirement for split-second timing and a dramatic flair for musical interpretation and choreography, and you have synchronized swimming!

Q:  Is synchronized swimming an Olympic sport?

A:   In 1952, synchronized swimming showcased at the Olympic Games and it became an official Olympic event in 1984.  The first Olympic competitions featured only the duet and solo events. In the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, the team event replaced the duet and solo competition and at the 2000 Olympics, synchronized swimming was represented with the duet and team events. This sport is governed internationally by FINA (Federation Internationale de Natation Amateur).

Q:  What are the different routines?

A: Synchronized swimmers compete in teams of up to eight, combos of up to 10 swimmers, duets, and solos. 

Q:  What skills are required for synchronized swimming?

A: Synchro is a sport requiring overall body strength and agility, grace and beauty, split-second timing, musical interpretation, and dramatic flair.  It is a unique sport in which power, strength, and technical skill are displayed in an artistically choreographed piece.

Q:  Can the swimmers hear the music under water? 

A:  Yes, synchronized swimmers can hear the music underwater. The sound is supplied via underwater speakers.

Q:  Can synchronized swimmers touch the bottom of the pool?

A:  Synchronized swimmers do not touch the bottom of the pool during a routine. It is against the rules, and a two-point deduction will be given if they do. The water is a minimum of nine feet deep. The swimmers create the illusion of standing on their feet or hands because they are so proficient at the techniques.

Q:  Do synchronized swimmers keep their eyes open under water? 

A:  Synchronized swimmers swim with their eyes open underwater. By seeing their teammates underwater, they make corrections to alignment and set-up for specific moves in their routine.  When spinning upside down in the water, synchronized swimmers spot the pool walls just like a figure skater, dancer or diver would to count their rotations.

Q:  How long can synchronized swimmers hold their breath? 

A:  In a five-minute routine, a synchronized swimmer may spend up to a minute underwater without coming up for air. At the same time, they are using their arms and legs to suspend themselves in the water. It's similar to running underwater while holding your breath at the same time. The elite-level synchronized swimmer can swim up to 75 meters underwater without coming up for air.

Q:  Do synchronized swimmers use any special equipment when they are performing? 

A:  The most important piece of equipment for synchronized swimming is the nose clip. Although it may seem unusual, the nose clip is vital in importance because it prevents water from entering the nasal cavity during the upside-down movements and also allows the swimmer to stay underwater for longer lengths of time. Most synchronized swimmers carry an extra nose clip in their suit in case the one they are wearing gets knocked off during a routine.

Q:  How many hours per week do synchronized swimmers train, and how do they train? 

A:  Aqua Sprite swimmers practice between three and 8 hours per week, depending on the age and competition level of the swimmer.  While much of this time is spent in the pool, we also spend time out of the water doing strength training, stretching, and land drilling (practicing routines out of the pool).  Olympic and National Team synchronized swimmers practice as much as eight hours a day, six days a week!  Approximately six hours are spent in the water and an additional two hours on land with cross training exercises such as lifting weights, biking, running or aerobics. 

Q:  What is a lift? 

A:  A lift in synchronized swimming is done by raising the body of one or more swimmers up to or above the water surface. Swimmers execute lifts with only their body strength and are not allowed to use the pool bottom.

Q:  How is synchronized swimming judged in competition?

A:  Most synchronized swimming competitions are comprised of two parts. First is the "Figure" competition where each swimmer performs a series of technical moves individually in front of a panel of judges without music. The "Routine" competition, where the swimmers perform a routine comprised of technical moves choreographed to music.  Swimmers are judged on technical merit and artistic impression. The technical merit score is based on execution, synchronization, and difficulty, and takes into account such factors as how high the swimmers can propel themselves out of the water and how well synchronized the swimmers are with each other and the music. The artistic impression score includes how well the choreography is matched to the music and the grace of the swimmers in the water. A percentage of the athlete's Figure score is combined with a percentage of the routine score to determine the final score awarded.

Q:  What is deckwork? 

A:  Deckwork consists of the movements athletes perform on the deck once the music starts and before entering the water. Deckwork sets the mood of the routine, can only be 10 seconds in length, and does factor into the final score.

Q:  What is the purpose of the sequined suits and makeup?

A:  Synchronized swimming is an artistic sport, like ice skating. Sequined suits are meant to enhance the performance. Makeup brings out the swimmer's features, and the smiles you might see on a swimmer's face are meant to deceive the audience into believing that the performance is easy.

Q:  "But it looks so easy", many people say – isn’t it? 

A:   Making a routine look easy is an important part of the sport and is just one of the things that the judges look for in competition. To get a better appreciation for the demands of this sport–imagine a gymnast performing on the balance beam while holding her breath for up to half of her routine. Now throw in additional gymnasts performing the same routine concurrently and in complete synchronization!

Q: Who is eligible to join the Aqua Sprites of Wisconsin Synchronized Swim Team?

A: Any child or teenager, between the ages of 6-18 years of age, who is able to swim at least 25 yards independently, wants to learn a new sport, and enjoys making new friends!

 Q:  Are there different levels of Synchronized Swimming?

A:Yes. There are several competitive levels of synchronized swimming. New swimmers typically begin at the Novice or Intermediate level, depending upon their age and swimming ability.

  • Novice - any age
  • Intermediate - any age
  • Age Group - 12-under,  13-15, 16-17, 18-19
  • Junior - 15-18
  • Senior - 15-older
  • Collegiate - 4 years of eligibility while enrolled in college
  • Master - 20-90+ years

 Q:  How often are practices held and where?

A:  Aqua Sprite swim practices are held October to June. Each group typically practices 1-2 times a week, Tuesday and Thursday, depending upon level. When the competition season begins, the coaches may schedule a few additional practices on Saturdays. All practices are held at Whitman Middle School or Wauwatosa West High School.

 Q:  What does my child need for swim practice?

A:  All swimmers must wear a one piece bathing suit and bring a towel, swimming cap, goggles, and nose clip to practice. In the winter months, a sweatshirt, sweat pants, and/or a swim parka are also helpful. Caps, and nose clips are available for purchase from the Coach!

Q: Tell me about the synchronized swimming competitions.

A:  The Wisconsin Association Synchro competition season begins in November and continues until the end of June.  Typically one meet a month. All swimmers are expected to participate in all swim meets, with some exceptions.  The meets are held either in Wauwatosa, Menomonee Falls or Middleton, typically on a weekend. Some swimmers compete only on a single day and others on both days. Here is an idea of a typical meet schedule:

  • January - Junior/Senior Association Championship
  • February/March - Wisconsin Invitational
  • February/March - Junior /Senior North Zone (Age Group 13-15 and 15-18 year old swimmers)
  • March/April – Wisconsin Junior Olympic Championships (All intermediate and Age Group swimmers - all ages)
  • May - Regional Junior Olympic Championships (Attendance depends upon qualification from Association meet)
  • June/July - Age Group Nationals (Attendance depends upon qualification from Regional meet)

Most synchro competitions are comprised of two parts. First is the "Figure" or "Element" competition in which each swimmer performs a series of technical moves individually in front of a panel of judges without music. Then the "Routine" competition begins in which the swimmers perform a routine comprised of technical moves choreographed to music. Swimmers are judged on their technical merit and artistic impression. Swimmers will be assigned by the coaches to solos, duets, trios, and teams for the routine competition.

 Q:  Are there special outfits for the synchronized swimming competitions?

A:  Yes. For the “Figures” or “Element” competition, the swimmers must wear a black one piece swimsuit, white cap, and nose clip. They are not permitted to wear any jewelry, make-up, or nail polish for this part of the competition. For the “Routine” competition, special swimsuits and hairpieces are designed and ordered by the coaches. The swimmers wear make-up for this part of the competition.

 Q:  I have heard rumors that synchronized swimmers “knox” their hair. What is this?

A:  Knoxing” is a synchro tradition that is used for shows and routine competitions. Swimmers wear their hair in a tight bun on top of their heads. Knox, a brand of unflavored gelatin, is applied to each swimmer’s hair to hold it in place. This “gelatin shield” will not dissolve in the pool’s cold water. After the competition is over, the gelatin washes out easily in a warm shower.

Q:   What is the history of Synchronized Swimming?

A:  While there is evidence of swimmers performing ballet-like maneuvers in ancient times, the origin of synchronized swimming as an organized, competitive sport only dates back to the late nineteenth century. The first competitions were held in Berlin, Germany in 1890 and involved only male performers. In 1907, the first female synchronized swimmer was Annette Kellerman who performed her water ballet inside a glass tank at the New York Hippodrome. In 1923, Katherine Curtis started the first water ballet club at the University of Chicago, called the Modern Mermaids.  The most famous synchronized swimmer was the actress, Esther Williams. Ms. Williams, a US freestyle champion and Olympic contender, portrayed Annette Kellerman’s life in the musical, Million Dollar Mermaid. She also performed in a string of MGM “aqua musicals” in the 1940's and 1950's, which inspired young girls everywhere to begin learning synchronized swimming.  In the 1970's and 1980's, Ft. Lauderdale swimming champion, Charkie Phillips, showcased water ballet on television in "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour", and "The Big Show", and then revived it on the movie screen as Miss Piggy in "The Great Muppet Caper". Since then, the popularity of this sport has continued to grow. It has become very technical and athletic. Synchronized swimming was named an official Olympic Sport in 1984. (This text was modified from the Wikipedia web site)