Artistic swimming is a women's Olympic discipline which combines technical perfection, synchronisation, choreography, artistry and expressive power.

Tokyo 2020 competition animation "One Minute, One Sport"

We will show you the rules and highlights of artistic swimming in one minute. Whether you are familiar with artistic swimming or want to know more about it, "One Minute, One Sport" explains the sport and how it works. Watch the video below.

One Minute, One Sport | Artistic Swimming
01:19

Overview

In a pool at least 3m deep, 20m wide and 25m long, each team completes a technical routine that includes a set of five designated movements lasting a maximum of 2 minutes, 50 seconds, as well as a free routine lasting three to four minutes. The routines are performed to music. Performances are scored ⁠— and teams ranked ⁠— on synchronisation, difficulty, technique and choreography.

Athletes wear beautifully decorated swimsuits and waterproof make-up. They often perform choreography and use music that is unique to their heritage, creating a rich and distinctive spectacle.

Event Programme

  • Duets (Women)
  • Teams (Women)

Essence of the sport

A blend of artistry and athleticism

Artistic swimming became an Olympic discipline at the Los Angeles 1984 Games. Since then, the sport's regulations have changed a number of times. Initially, the sport consisted of two events: a solo routine (one performer) and a duet (two). A team event (with eight athletes) was held at the Atlanta 1996 Games, then the duet returned at Sydney 2000. Subsequent Games have featured both duet and team events.

Performers are scored by three panels, each comprising five judges. In the technical routine, one panel of judges scores athletes' technical execution, while another scores their choreography, use of music, synchronisation, difficulty and presentation. The third panel of judges scores the elements (five designated movements).

In the free routine, one panel of judges scores athletes' execution, synchronisation and difficulty, while another scores their choreography, musical interpretation and presentation. The third scores difficulty.

More time is allotted to the free routine performance, which offers greater freedom in terms of choreography. A routine must nevertheless show a high level of expressive power and artistry, arguably making it more difficult than the technical routine.

Competitors use techniques such as sculling, in which they move their hands through the water to hold position or move; and an eggbeater kick, in which they do the same with their legs to propel themselves up out of the water. They develop an impressive amount of power in that moment, rising waist-high above the surface. Another technique enables swimmers to turn upside down underwater so that only the lower half of their bodies is visible.

A key requirement for athletes is to be able to execute moves while their head is underwater for an extended period of time. Some athletes can perform leg techniques for more than 30 seconds while holding their breath.

However, performances that are merely technically rigorous may result in a lower score if they do not include carefully detailed synchronisation. It is also likely that not only dynamic lifts but fine detail, such as the extended position of fingertips and toes, and synchronisation will become an even more important elements in future.

Outlook for the Tokyo 2020 Games

An ever-evolving discipline

Artistic swimming emerged from ornamental swimming and theatrical water ballets in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, also drawing on techniques from life saving and swimming. The first contests were for men, but artistic swimming became more associated with women after Australian Annette Kellerman performed in a glass tank at the New York Hippodrome in 1907.

When first staged at the Los Angeles 1984 Games, the sport involved fewer rigorous techniques and emphasised choreography designed to highlight supple, attractive movements. By Sydney 2000, dynamic lifts and jumps began to be included, followed soon after by twisting movements ⁠— all of which have become a key attraction.

Every aspect of performance is now considered: even the splashing of the water is brought under control when swimmers strike or trace circles on the surface with their hands.

Changes in choreographic style have seen different countries gain prominence. The United States and Canada reigned supreme when the discipline was first included in the Olympic programme, but European countries including Russia, Spain, France and Ukraine are now highly competitive. Asian athletes have also been successful, with China recently joining Japan as a leading nation.

Trivia