Olympic Synchronised Swimming: A guide

Posted in sport on July 31, 2012

With the Olympic swimming meet progressing at a rate of knots, it will soon be the turn of the synchonised swimmers to show the world their skills. This unique sport often captures the imagination of the public for its quirky combination of dance, gymnastics and swimming, and because of a heritage that can be traced back to 1950s Hollywood movies.

However it can sometimes be written off, unfairly, as an easy sport to do, so we will do our best to show how challenging and great to watch (and do!) synchronised swimming can be.


Synchronised swimming has some particularly glamorous origins, from the first official ‘water ballet’ competitions in the late 19th century, through to being popularised in Hollywood movies throughout the 1940s, 50s and 60s by Collegiate champion swimmer Esther Williams.

Although the sport did have to wait until 1984 to become a fully-fledged Olympic sport, after being demonstrated as early as the 1952 Olympic games. For the 2012 games in London there will be two medalling events: the Women’s duet and the Women’s team.

Rules and Scoring:

Each team performs a routine, set to music, which incorporates ‘hybrids’ (legs out of water), arm movements and throws.

There are two different sections for each team to complete:

technical– a set of preset routines that everyone must complete and,

freestyle– which has no requirements to meet and allows the teams to create their own, more creative routines.

The swimmers must be synchronised to both the music and each other, and are then marked out of 100 on artistic (50) and technical (50) merit.

Key moves:

Sculling: this is the essential skill for synchronised swimmers, and involves the use of the hands to propel and support the body. There are a huge variety of different ‘sculls’ including the Torpedo, split-arm and barrel.

Eggbeater: synchronised swimming for treading water, but potentially a little harder than what you may remember from school swimming lessons! The swimmers use this move to propel their bodies out of the water so that their arms are able to do some of the more technical high-scoring moves.

Back layout: the most basic position, the body floats completely upright using sculling to stay out of the water.

High scoring positions:

Flamingo: swimmers, with their legs completely vertical and out of the water, put one foot on the other leg’s shin and resemble the pink water bird that gives the move its name.

Crane: the swimmers, again with their legs completely out of the water, keep one leg vertical, and one moves to 90 degrees making an L-shape.

Manhole lift: a very complicated and high-scoring move which only a video can do real justice:


The women’s team, particularly the duet team of Jenna Randall and Olivia Federici, have shown real improvements coming into the games but aren’t expected to medal. Russia are huge favourites having won Gold in both Athens and Beijing and look in great shape for London..

For up to the minute news and behind the scenes action follow @GBswimming on twitter.

Get involved:

If you like the sound of this surprisingly difficult sport which can see swimmers staying under water for up to a minute at a time, developing incredibly strong core muscles, and working in unison as a team, then there are lots of options in and around London. British swimming have a list of London swimming clubs, a lot of which have their own synchronised team, here.

If you’ve been inspired to get into the pool don’t forget that we’ll soon have a selection of excellent coaches to browse and book on upmysport, click here to sign up and stay updated.