Olympic artistic swimmer Jacqueline Simoneau waves while being under water.

What Happened to Synchronized Swimming?

Release Date: February 21, 2024

When you look at the sports on the Olympic program, you’ll see something called “artistic swimming.” But wait–shouldn’t that be called “synchronized swimming”? Just as the Olympic sports program evolves, sport names do too. Here’s the lowdown:

What’s In a Name?

Artistic swimming has had many names throughout its short life as an organized sport. These include rhythmic swimming, ornamental swimming, water ballet, and underwater dancing. The term “synchronized swimming” was first used at the 1933-34 Century of Progress International Exposition in Chicago (Chicago’s World’s Fair) during a performance of swimmers doing figures in water set to music. The announcer–Antwerp 1920 three-time Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Norman Ross–came up with the name, highlighting the uniformity of look and movement of the swimmers, and it stuck.

FINA, the aquatics international federation (which has since changed its name to World Aquatics) first recognized the sport of synchronized swimming in 1952. However, it took over 20 years for it to get its first world championships, which happened in 1973.

Synchronized swimming became part of the Olympic program at LA 1984. Swimmers could compete in solo and duet events, even though world championships also had included a team competition.

The program remained this way until Atlanta 1996, when the solo and duet were dropped and the eight-person team competition was in. There was another change at Sydney 2000, when the duet came back. That’s the program that remains today.

In 2017, FINA/World Aquatics decided to transform the sport by renaming it artistic swimming.

Why Change?

It was thought that “artistic” more accurately reflected the scope and nature of the event. It also aligned with artistic gymnastics, rather than synchronized diving. Aquatics officials thought the name change would enhance the popularity of the sport.

Not everyone loved the idea. At the time, Russian coach Tatyana Pokrovskaya said, “I do not know what kind of whim it is, to whom and what the former name was, but it does not change the essence of our sport.”

Changes for Paris

After Tokyo 2020, artistic swimming drastically revised its code of points, so you’ll see some different strategics and tactics at play, as competitors try to up the ante with their routines.

One change that you’ll see right off the bat is that the walk-on and deck work–the team’s synchronized entry to poolside and the choreography that’s done before they dive into the water–will now be judged.

Another is that for the first time in Olympic history, men will be allowed to compete in this sport. Men have been competing in artistic swimming at world championships since 2015, but at the Olympics, it remained a female-only sport. That changed in 2022, when World Aquatics, with IOC approval, decided to allow men to compete at the Olympics. There are still some caveats to that decision: They can only compete in the team competition, and teams can have no more than two men.

Not all teams will have men on them, but some will–potentially even the U.S.

Who’s Qualified for Paris?

At the World Aquatics Championships in Doha earlier this month, TKFLASTANI Jacqueline Simoneau and partner Audrey Lamothe qualified in the duets for Paris 2024. The fields for both the team and duet competition was finalized in Doha. Along with Canada, duets will include Australia, Austria, Canada, China, Egypt, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Israel, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and the U.S.

Canada was a surprise qualifier for the team competition, which for a young team is a huge accomplishment. They will be joined by Australia, China, Eqypt, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Spain and the U.S.

Who’s Not Qualified for Paris?

At Paris 2024, Russians and Belorussians will be absent from the artistic swimming competition, due to the restrictions the IOC has put on athletes from these countries. As they are classified as Individual Neutral Athletes, they’re ineligible for team competition. As there is no solo artistic swimming event at the Games, we won’t see them compete in Paris.

–Alison Brown, with contributions from Jill Jaracz