The history of synchronized swimming as an Olympic sport is fairly short, but it has seen quite dramatic changes over the course of its tenure. Equal parts competition and artistry, the bright costumes and pageantry, combined with athletic prowess and utter grace, the sport was popularized in performances in glass tanks. Synchronized swimming was featured in Olympic exhibition, but not included as an Olympic sport until decades past its heyday as a spectacle.
1984: Olympic Synchronized Swimming Debuts in Los Angeles
It was decided in Moscow at the 83rd International Olympic Committee session in 1980 to be included as a solo event during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games. In May of 1984, in Lausanne at the IOC executive board meeting, it was decided that a duet division would also be included in the Summer Games held that same year, with both solo and duet teams competitions making their debut in 1984, competing in Los Angeles as two separate divisions. The solo and duet synchronized swimming events were held for the next three Olympiads, with the American teams showing utter dominance over the sport.
Big Changes to the Event
In 1991, the 97th IOC session in Birmingham, UK, elected to replace both existing synchronized swimming events with a single team event, and this stood for the 1996 Atlanta event. In 1997, with the sport increasing in popularity, the IOC chose to reinstate the duet competition alongside the team event, and this decision has remained in effect since the reintroduction of duet competition at Sydney in 2000.
Battle for Dominance
The American Olympic team enjoyed dominance over the majority of competitors from abroad, as the preponderance of clean, temperate waters have led to casual and league competition around the United States. That dominance, however, was upset in the late 1990s, as the Russian team with its foundation in other sports such as Ballet and Gymnastics revolutionized the world's approach to the sport.
Russia, with its bright new school of highly artistic and extremely athletic synchronized swimming, has taken home every gold medal given in synchronized swimming since 2000. Previous to Russia's synchronized evolution, top medal dominance was split amongst the United States, Canada and Japan. It was a quick rise to the top of the sport for the newly liberated country. The Soviet team did not even participate in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, due to boycott of the games by Soviet Block countries.
Since the introduction of new fundamentals by the Russians, other teams, the United States included, have rushed to learn and incorporate the new lifts, throws and swimming techniques. The grace and beauty of the sport has fast raced to new pinnacles of success, causing more folks to take up the sport.
Synchronized swimming has become a legendary part of the world of female aquatics. Part of the reason for the sport's dominance by female athletes is that the center of gravity in the female body is far more suited to the rigors and grace of the sport, as opposed to the male physique. The sport was originally a male pursuit. B
Benjamin Franklin is regularly credited with its invention, under the name "ornamental swimming." During the 20th century, its popularity among males waned rapidly. However, it is experiencing somewhat of a revival, rapidly expanding in popularity amongst modern males. Nonetheless, the Olympic contest remains closed to male athletes. Other leagues do include male competitors, but as an Olympic sport, it is one of only two Olympic sports that permit only female competitors. The other historically open singularly to female competitors is rhythmic gymnastics.
Evolution of Competition
Not only has the sport of synchronized swimming evolved, but the number of teams seeded in the duet competition has also changed. The number of teams competing in the first and third Olympic outings was 18 teams, with a scarce 15 teams competing in the sport's sophomore outing at the 1988 games held in Seoul, South Korea. Since the 2000 Sydney Games, the medal has gone to the top scoring team out of a field of 24 teams. The team competition has consisted of a field of 8 world class teams since the team category was introduced in 1996.
Shirttail: The Author grew up in a family of swimming enthusiasts, each with their own unique style of swim. She fondly remembers passing the long Summer days in Central Florida in the family swimming pool choreographing intricate synchronized swimming routines with her cousins and grandmother.