How the U.S. artistic swimming team inspired the sporting world to stay in shape

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - AUGUST 04:  Andrea Fuentes of Spain competes in the Solo Free routine during the European Swimming Championship at the Hajos Alfred Swimming complex on August 4, 2010 in Budapest, Hungary.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY - AUGUST 04: Andrea Fuentes of Spain competes in the Solo Free routine during the European Swimming Championship at the Hajos Alfred Swimming complex on August 4, 2010 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

With pools closed due to COVID-19, the U.S. artistic swimming team took their workouts online and, in doing so, brought together the sporting world. 

Turning to the positives

When the global coronavirus pandemic caused the closure of sporting facilities across the world, many athletes were left without a place to train. And crucially for sports that involve teamwork, they lost the ability to train together.

Perhaps the greatest example of a sport where athletes need to work together is artistic swimming – a discipline that involves the highest levels of synchronisation between team members.

But rather than feeling dejected about the new restraints being placed on her sport, the coach of the U.S. artistic swimming team, Andrea Fuentes, came up with a novel way to work out online that would revolutionise athlete training during the pandemic period.

It started with a determination to do something positive.

“Are you bringing something positive to your sport or shutting down and trying to survive?” the Spanish four-time Olympic medallist said to teamusa.org.

“I decided even if we’re not the best ones still in our sport, we’re growing so fast that I was thinking we have to be the best ones in this, period. Everyone is starting from point zero, so let’s go.”

Fuentes contacted a number of national artistic swimming programmes and began organising live video conferencing calls. Each country took it in turns to present a specific challenge, which was followed by a dance that all the athletes performed together.

There is rivalry but in the end we are all in it for the same passion: artistic swimming.

The results were inspirational.

150 athletes from 11 countries began working out together online, encouraging one another and pushing each other forwards in a display of solidarity.

“For the athletes, it's very interesting to connect without competing,” Fuentes told the Olympic Channel. “There is rivalry but in the end we are all in it for the same passion: artistic swimming.”

Broadening the net

But Fuentes didn’t stop there. Buoyed on by the popularity of the workouts, she extended the invitation to other sports, offering athletes an opportunity to take advantage of one of artistic swimming’s greatest strengths - flexibility. 

As Fuentes explained: “I cannot make a boxer sharper or a weightlifter stronger, so why don’t we offer flexibility, which is one of our strengths. Every sport needs flexibility.”

Soon there were 75 U.S. athletes from 25 different sports stretching together. But as important as the physical benefits of the workouts are the psychological benefits and positivity Fuentes brought to the table. 

“It’s very important not to think about negative aspects or what we could lose, but control what is really under our control. We are not going to focus at all on the things we can’t control,” she explained.

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Looking forward to Tokyo

During the lockdown period, the U.S. artistic swimming team have taken to their role of leaders with panache, even though they are not yet seen as leading medal contenders in their sport.

But looking forward to Tokyo 2020, the postponement of the Games may also have given the young team an opportunity to grow that they would never have had if the Games had taken place this year. 

“We need a miracle. So, thank the universe,” said Fuentes. “But you never know, anything can happen. For us, obviously, it’s positive because we are a young team that is improving much faster than other countries. So it’s good for us.”