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Why everyone should get to know synchronised swimming

Sparkly costumes, athletic feats and astonishing make-up: here’s why synchronised swimming is our new favourite sport, writes Anna-Marie Crowhurst.

Lane swimming can get a bit samey. One tires of whipping up and down in endless, achingly long lanes, nose to tail with strange splashy people, too-slow swimmers and perverts. And so there is only one thing to do. Get synchronised.

We had forgotten about synchronised swimming until two things happened. We saw the gloriously funny, if-devoid-of actual-plot Hail Caesar!, in which Scarlett Johansson, in a plait bun and sequinned mermaid’s tail, performs a synchronised swimming routine with a host of other bathing belles, making incredible shapes in a big turquoise pool on a studio lot.

Then we discovered that the GB synchronised swimming team has won a place at the Rio Olympics. (*GB-GB-GB woo woo!*). Wonder swimmers Katie Clark and Olivia Federici qualified in Brazil and won the ‘duet free second round’, which is where two people swim in a routine, FYI. Their winning performance is brilliant and you should definitely spend the next four minutes watching it (you really should). We defy you not to do a pointy toe under your desk.

There are many things we love about watching synchronised swimming. The swimmers are powerful athletes: synchro requires the incredibly difficult combination of flexibility, strength (particularly core), endurance, breath control and rhythm. It’s insanely difficult. But they also wear ritzy swimsuits, often in a theme, and have glamorous head adornments. (They often grin toothily when popping up from the water, which makes for strangely compelling watching. Not sure why.)

Synchronised swimming is also one of only two female-only Olympic sports (the other is rhythmic gymnastics). Then there’s the fact that synchro swimmers don’t just swim in time, but use the poolside walk to do a mini on-land pre-routine (known as “deckwork”). This usually ends in a synchronised tableau that could definitely be adapted for the dancefloor. (We’re thinking Grandmaster Flash would work as a soundtrack.)

And this is surely the only sport where blue eyeshadow to the eyebrows is the norm? For an example that delights us to the core, check out Russian swimmers Natalia Ishchenko and Svetlana Romashina performing in Shanghai in 2011 attired in a crazy Disney cartoon make-up mashup.

Something about synchronised swimming makes it the perfect sport for TV (or indeed YouTube) viewing, almost as good as pairs skating IOHO. Regard, for example, a lovely 1953 newsreel from British Pathé, which involves lots of pointy-boobed young lovelies doing what is referred to as “water ballet”. More recently, this group effort by Russia looks very difficult and also has a jaunty Siberian club beats soundtrack.

Have you ever tried synchronised swimming? We have, because we fancied ourselves as a bit of a water baby, and also because how hard can it be? Answer: it’s like, the hardest thing ever. We had one lesson, in which the instructor shouted about circular breathing and sculling, while we sunk downwards and almost drowned. Possibly you’re meant to keep your eyes open. And wear nose clips. And be very flexible and able to get your leg in the air. But it was funny. Next time you go in the pool, have a go. This video compilation will tell you what to do. And if you’d like to take it further, the ASA Swimming Hub has details of classes in your area.

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