This is the second article in a five-part series from writer Matthew Solan on Summer Olympic sports that fiftysomething readers may want to take up to boost their fitness. Watch for future articles on race walking, boxing and fencing.
Synchronized swimming, or "synchro," is still seen by many casual fans as more of an artistic endeavor than an athletic feat. If your impression of the sport is based on visions of waterproof eyeliner, petal-covered swim caps, Esther Williams movies and that classic Saturday Night Live sketch, think again: It requires tremendous effort to make swimming in sync look so effortless.
"Synchro is a theatrical sport where we have the pretty makeup and the big smiles," U.S. Olympian Mary Killman said in a recent interview with Sports Illustrated. "But under all that — under water — it’s chaos. We're kicking each other like crazy and trying to hold each other up."
(MORE: Lynn Sherr Says You Should Swim Into Your Next Decade)
Killman and partner Mariya Koroleva will represent the U.S. in the Olympic duet competition at the London Games from August 5-7. Russia, which has captured the last three gold medals in synchronized swimming, and Japan are considered the teams to beat. (The U.S. failed to qualify for the nine-woman team event for the first time.)
The Basics of Synchronized Swimming
Synchro is much like it appears — a dance routine in water, choreographed to music. You snap into this position, you snap into that position, you twirl, spin, kick and jump. And you always move in perfect sequence with your partner or teammates in one continuous, flowing program.
"We must have flexible joints and muscles to get into the various positions required to perform the leg and arm sequences in routines," says Nathalie Schneyder Bartleson, a member of the 1996 gold-medal-winning U.S. team and its 2004 Olympic coach. "If you can hold a squat position on land, do a perfectly straight plank or push-up position, go into a split, and hoist anything heavy over your head many times, that’s a great start to learning and executing many of the sport’s required skills."
There are two basic moves that synchro swimmers at any level must master: sculling and the eggbeater kick. Sculling is a means of propelling yourself in the water by waving the arms and hands beside the body, like doing a figure-eight on your side. The eggbeater kick is done with your legs split and your knees bent in front of you, keeping you high in the water while leaving your arms free for movements.
Photo courtesy of Maxisport/Shutterstock.com