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Summer Olympics Synchronized Swimming: 10 Rules Every Fan Should Know

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Many Americans may be surprised to learn that synchronized swimming has been an Olympic sport since 1984. Per the official website of the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, the sport "is one of two Olympic disciplines contested only by women."

At this year's Olympics, the synchronized swimming contests will take place between Aug. 5-10. Swimmers can compete either in the "duets" competition or in the "teams" event.

According to The Telegraph, synchronized swimming was originally called "water ballet," and the name seems to fit. Competitors execute a series of choreographed moves in water, which may include "substantial twists, thrusts, rockets and boosts." At the 2012 Summer Olympics, each entry in both the duets and teams competitions will perform a technical routine, consisting of a series of required movements, and a free routine, which allows the duet or team to "perform [its] own choreographed material." Per the 2012 London Summer Olympics official website, each routine is worth 50 percent of a team's (or duet's) total score. The top 12 duets will perform a second free routine, which will replace the earlier one.

The synchronized swimming competitions will rely on the rules and regulations promulgated by the Federation Internationale de Natation (FINA), which oversees international competition in aquatic sports.

Here are 10 of the FINA rules that fans need to know:

Eligibility: Anyone who wants to compete in synchronized swimming has to be at least 15 years of age on or before Dec. 31, 2012.

Teams: A team may contain either eight or nine women; however, only eight swimmers can perform a routine. Duets consist of two women.

Time Limits: Duets will have 2 minutes, 20 seconds to complete their technical routines and 3:30 to finish their free routines. Teams will have 2:50 to perform their technical routines and 4 minutes to complete their free routines.

Judging: Two panels of judges will preside over the synchronized swimming routines. One group will grade the swimmers on technical merit, while the other panel will give the swimmers an artistic impression score.

Scoring: Each judge will give competitors a score, ranging from 0 to 10. A score of 10 is perfect, while a score between 5.0 and 5.9 is considered to be satisfactory.

Calculation of Scores: For each routine, both the technical merit and the artistic impression categories are weighted equally. Assuming no penalties, the highest and lowest marks in each category are thrown out and the remaining scores for that category are averaged together and multiplied by five (to achieve a score out of 50). The results from the two categories are then added together and divided by two in order to obtain the final score for that routine.

A sample score for a free routine might look like this: Technical Merit Score: 48 (out of 50), Artistic Impression Score: 49 (out of 50), Free Routine Score: 48.5 (97 divided by 2).

Penalties: Depending on their nature, penalties may be deducted from a category or from the routine's total score. Some of the more common penalties are listed below.

Touching the Bottom: A team or duet will incur a one point deduction from its routine score if one of its swimmers makes "a deliberate use of the bottom of the pool." An extra point will be deducted from the routine score if this action is taken "to assist another competitor."

Time Limit: Swimmers will be penalized if they take too long to enter the water, or if their routine exceeds the time limit.

Required Elements: A team's (or duet's) technical merit score will suffer if it fails to perform all of the required elements during its technical routine.

The author is a freelance writer who happens to be an avid sports fan. He is not affiliated with any Olympic organizations or synchronized swimming teams.

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