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Synchronized Swimming at the 2012 London Summer Olympics

One of only two sports in which only women Olympic athletes compete, synchronized swimming competitions will take place August 5–10 at the London Aquatics Centre in Olympic Park. Only a portion of the pool is used, an area that is 30 meters long, 25 meters wide, and 3 meters deep. One hundred four athletes will compete for medals in two events: duets and team competition.

The only other all-woman competition in the Olympics is rhythmic gymnastics.

Eight countries compete in the teams event. These countries are limited to nine athletes, two of which compete in the duets event while eight compete in the teams event. Another 16 countries will compete in the duets event only — and logically, they are limited to two entrants.

Although some folks may associate synchronized swimming with old Hollywood movie musicals with women in floral swim caps, the first Olympic synchronized swimming competition didn't occur until the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. The first competitions, however, were held in the 1930s.

Synchronized swimming at the Olympics: The team event

Each team of eight athletes performs a technical routine and a free routine before two panels of judges. The sum of the scores determines the medal winners.

During the technical routine, one judging panel looks at the required elements and overall execution; the second judging panel reviews the presentation elements such as choreography, difficulty, and — you guessed it — synchronization.

During the free routine, the technical judging panel looks at the difficulty, the execution and form of the strokes and movements, and the synchronization. The second judging panel looks at the artistic elements including musicality, presentation, and choreography.

Synchronized swimming at the Olympics: The duets event

During the duets event, the athletes compete in two rounds. In the first round, they perform a technical routine and a preliminary free routine. Based on the combined scores from these two performances, 12 duets go on to the second round, in which they compete in a free routine final.

Medals are awarded after the scores from the technical routine in the first round are combined with the scores from the free routine in the final.

What to watch for during competition

To get the most out of watching the synchronized swimming event, you should be aware of some of the common positions and movements and what the announcers might call them.

  • An eggbeater, for instance, is treading water and staying afloat while performing arm movements.

  • Deckwork is the initial movements the competitors perform before they enter the water, but after the music starts.

  • Scull are underwater hand movements the swimmers use to move and support their bodies.

  • The back layout is a position in which the athletes hold themselves face up and flat on the water's surface while sculling.

Judges give deductions for various errors such as missing compulsory elements during the technical routines or taking too long on the deck (before entering the pool).

To live up to its name, synchronized swimming is all about synchronization. All eight members of the team (or both competitors in the duets event) must execute the movements together and stay synchronized to the music. Underwater speakers broadcast the music so that the athletes can stay in synch with the music.

To learn more about synchronized swimming, check out the Synchronized Swimming page at Olympic.org. For a full schedule of the 2012 Olympic Games, check out the official website, at London2012.com.

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