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If Ballet has made Gymnastics its avatar at major international sporting events, then Water Ballet, christened itself as Synchronized Swimming, and is not far behind being one of the most gracefully competed contests on the world stage.
What started as an offshoot of mundane life saving training in the late 1890's has evolved into what modern synchronized swimming is today. From being just a demonstration sport at the 1954 Helsinki Olympics, its elevation to an official sport at Los Angeles in 1984 has seen synchronized swimming refine itself into a polished art form that encompasses ample flexibility, with split second coordination and accomplished routines.
Synchronized swimming is essentially a combination of swimming, dance and gymnastics, where swimmers execute intricate moves in water, accompanied by music. It demands extraordinary breath control, poetic choreography, precise timings and arduous routine, especially in the team event.
When Canadian water polo player and diver Margaret Sellers developed the earliest form of what was then called â€˜ornamental swimming' in the 1920's, little did she envision its show piece reception at the 1934 Chicago World Fair. As it spread to the USA over the next 20 years, it became more technical, musical and athletic.
Making its debut in at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, Synchronized Swimming was a Women's only event, where one could participate as a solo contestant and in a duet. It was replaced by a competition among eight-member teams in Atlanta 1996, but the duet event was restored to the Olympics in Sydney, four years later.
In solo and duet events, there are two rounds. The 1st round is the technical round, where a set of moves has to be performed in a predefined manner. The swimmers can however choose the music to accompany them, within the given stipulated time limit. In the 2nd round, the participant is given the freedom to choose her routine.
In the team event, there is just one round where the teams are free to perform their own routines to their choice of music. The team competition often includes special air movements when team member pushes another member out of the water. Different sorts of complex flips are made in these pushes. The team has the whole area of the pool to their disposal during their free program. The duration of free program is four minutes for solos and duets and five minutes for teams of swimmers.
The Scoring system developed for Synchronized Swimming is based on the scoring system used in figure skating. Different penalties points are used for free and technical programs. It is easier to judge technical elements but when it comes to free part of the program it becomes difficult.
There are two panels of 5 judges each. One panel judges the technical part and different technical elements of free program, and another panel of judges assesses the artistic prowess of the participants. Routines are scored on a scale of 100, with equal points for both artistic impression and technical merit. Technical skill, patterns, expression, and synchronization are critical to achieving a high score.
A few of the popular basic maneuvers include sculls, the eggbeater kick, lifts and throws. Sculls are hand movements used to propel the body. Commonly used sculls include support scull, head-first, foot-first, split scull, barrel, paddle, and thrust. The eggbeater kick is a form of treading water that allows for stability and height above the water while leaving the hands free to perform strokes. Routines are composed of arm and leg movements and often incorporate lifts or throws.
Synchronized swimming made its Commonwealth Games debut in Edinburgh 1986 and has appeared at every Games since then, making its seventh appearance in Delhi. The top teams at the Delhi Commonwealth Games are likely to be Canada, Australia, England and South Africa. Canada has dominated the event winning all fourteen gold medals since 1986. The Delhi Games do not have any team event - just singles and duet
Synchro Canada's Marie-Pierre Boudreau-Gagnon won gold in Melbourne in 2006 in the solo event. Canada have won all 14 golds at the commonwealth games. Chloe Isaac teams up with her for the duet event, while Elise Marcotte is the duet substitute.
The Dr.S.P.Mukherjee Swimming Stadium in New Delhi will host the Solo and Duet Synchronized Swimming events on the 6th and 7th of October, where only women will be competing. Representing India will be Avani Dave, Kavita Kolapkar and Bijal Vasant who will want to put up a good show considering their bleak chance of winning a medal in a strong line up in both categories.