Media playback is not supported on this device

Synchronised swimming explained (Part one)

Beyond the lipstick, sequins and fixed smiles you find synchronised swimming tests lung-busting endurance, athleticism, artistry and technical skill to the limit.

The swimmers perform precision routines which require them to hold their breath for periods of more than a minute as they carry out a succession of dizzying turns, kicks and flips, most of which are done while upside down in the water.

When they emerge from beneath the surface they must resist the urge to gulp down air, instead holding a smile to make it appear as though the whole display is effortless.

At the same time they are treading water, often using a technique known as the egg-beater, which keeps them afloat while they perform a series of arm movements.

Since synchronised swimming's introduction in 1984, the USA, Russia, Canada and Japan have been the dominant forces in the Olympic pool.

Why is it good for you?

Synchronised swimming is a strenuous and skilful sport that places huge demands on competitors, who need strength, flexibility, rhythm and flair to succeed.

This is exemplified by the egg-beater move, which is a powerful way of treading water while making arm movements above the surface, and one of the most important techniques in synchronised swimming.

It requires massive levels of endurance as the swimmers execute routines, often holding their breath under water, which can last up to four minutes, depending on which part of the programme they are competing in.

The effort required to compete saw synchronised swimmers ranked second only to long-distance runners when the aerobic capacity of athletes from the different Olympic sports were compared.

Abdominal core muscle strength and endurance are also boosted due to the strain of having to stay afloat in water while performing complex lifts and poses.

Synchronised swimmers must also exercise away from the water. Lung capacity can be boosted through long-distance running, weight training helps build muscle mass and flexibility is improved through gymnastic and ballet-like routines.

Get involved

For people (both male and female) who enjoy modern dance, ballet and gymnastics, synchronised swimming is the perfect way to transfer those skills to the pool.

It is essential that beginners receive tuition from qualified coaches to ensure that they learn the different techniques. Other than that, all that is needed are some swimming trunks or a swimming costume.

There are more than 1,500 swimming clubs in the UK, and they provide the best foundation for those looking to develop as synchronised swimmers.

Visit the British Swimming,Swim Ulster,Scottish Swimming and Swim Wales websites for information about the different membership schemes.

British Swimming is working with the BBC to get the UK into the pool in a celebration of swimming called the Big Splash.

A wide-range of activities, including competitive races, swimming lessons and aqua aerobics, are being put on in swimming pools throughout the country.

Sign up to British Swimming's mailing list to be sent details of the latest events and use their pool finder to find out where you can get started.

For those wanting to watch synchronised swimming, visit the British Swimming website for a list of upcoming events.

To keep up-to-date with synchronised swimming at London 2012, use British Swimming's companion site.

More on the British Swimming website

Want to get involved with sport in your local community? Why not Join In ?

'Join In Local Sport' aims to get as many people as possible to turn up and take part in activities at their local sports facilities on 18/19 August, 2012 - the first weekend between the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The aim of the initiative is for every sports club and community group in the UK to put on a special event in a bid to encourage more people to get involved as members, supporters or volunteers.

More than 4,000 local sports clubs will be opening their doors to host events and show people just how they can get involved.

As well as tips on playing sport there will be information on coaching, supporting and how to help out.

Find an event near you.

The competition format at London 2012

  • From Sunday 5 to Friday 10 August, 104 athletes (all women) will compete in the Aquatics Centre.
  • There are two events - duet and team.
  • Both have technical and free routines.
  • The duet has a final round after the technical and free routines, the team medals are decided by the technical and free routines.
  • In the duet event preliminary round, the score for the technical and free routines are added together and the top 12 duets progress to the final.
  • The result in the final is determined by the combined scores from the technical phase during the preliminary round and the free routine in the final.
  • In the duets and team events, the highest points tally wins the gold.

More on the London 2012 website

The rules at London 2012

Swimmers in the team and duet events perform a technical and a free routine.

In the technical routine, two panels of five judges each reward half the marks for technique and artistic performance respectively.

The time limit is two minutes and 20 seconds for the duet or two minutes and 50 seconds for the team competition.

The free routine involves presentation of a composition with own-choice technical elements combined with choreography.

There is a time limit of three minutes and 30 seconds for the duet and four minutes for the team display. The results for the two routines are combined to produce the final ranking.

Points deductions can be imposed by judges for offences such as making deliberate use of the bottom of the pool or missing out any of the compulsory elements of the technical routine.

More on the Team GB website

Ones to watch

Team GB's Jenna Randall and Olivia Federici will compete in the duet. A medal looks to be out of reach, so their main goal is to qualify for the final.

They will also form part of the GB team, which is already through to the final. Anything higher than eighth place would be a success.

Russia's Natalia Ischenko and Svetlana Romashina are reigning world and European duet champions, and won the London test event. It would be a surprise if they did not add the Olympic title.

Russia will also be favourites for team gold, with China and Spain likely to pose their main threat.


Synchronised swimming has its roots in ornamental water ballets of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which evolved into the Busby Berkeley Hollywood water spectaculars popularised by Esther Williams in the 1940s and 50s.

Between 1948 and 1968 it was an exhibition sport at the Olympics and finally became an official event at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Duet and solo events made up that first Olympic programme but they were dropped in 1992 and replaced by a team event. The duet was reinstated in 2000.

Synchronised swimming is one of two sports at London 2012 to be contested only by women, the other being rhythmic gymnastics.

More on the IOC website