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Olympics 101: Synchronized swimming
Synchronized swimming demands female swimmers (no men are allowed in Olympic competition) to hold their breath for long periods of time while performing choreographed water ballet-like movements both above and below water in a pool. The competitions are contested by pairs (duets) or teams of eight.
This sport catches a lot of grief from sports fans because the swimmers wear garish makeup and nose clips while not appearing to physically exert themselves. But the reality is that this is a very physically demanding sport. While a swimmer may be doing intricate arm movements above the water line, her legs are doing an "eggbeater" motion that keeps her upper body, at times, high above the water. Conversely, if the swimmer is upside down with her legs above the water line, her arms are doing "sculls", a strength skill involving arms (at 90-degree angles) moving in a motion to keep her body steady and at the desired angle.
The routines are judged on artistic and technical merits. Judges look for sharp movements, synchronization to the music as well as to each other, timing of lifts and movements, propulsion techniques and time spent underwater. Penalties include using the bottom of the pool, exceeding time limit of routine, an omission of a required element, or a swimmer's headpiece falling off.
Why should I care?
Team USA did win bronze medals in the 2004 Summer Games in both team and duets. So if you're into America's total medal count, this may interest you. Hey, it's an Olympic sport.
OK, so who should I watch?
The Russians have won the gold medals in both duets and team competition in the last three Summer Games.
What chance do the Americans have to win?
Team USA has not yet qualified for the 2012 Summer Games in London. There will be a pre-Olympic qualifying tournament on April 18. If they qualify, they have a shot to medal but keep in mind that the Americans were shut out in the 2011 World Aquatics Championships in Shanghai, China. Russia won all seven gold medals while China won six of the seven silver medals.