In at the deep end: An afternoon with Team GB's synchronised swimmers

As the synchro team event begins, Rebecca Gonsalves dons goggles and nose clip – and takes the plunge

As a spectator, the Olympic disciplines which have long been the most fascinating are those which appear to be executed without effort – no matter how much logic, and gravity, would attest to the contrary. The obvious grist that accompanies a sprint or long-distance run leaves me feeling spent just watching from the sofa, while the elegance of contracting muscles and swinging limbs of the more balletic sports is somehow energising (rictus grins aside).

Synchronised swimming then, appears to offer the best, or perhaps worst, of both worlds. It may be unbelievably hard work, but the secret is not to show it to the judges or spectators – all while wearing a spangly costume, make-up that would make a drag queen's look subtle and, who could forget, an oh-so-glamorous nose clip.

On the eve of the first stage of the team finals, Louise Woolley, the 27-year-old development coach who trained current captain Jenna Randall and led the British team to the World Championships in 2009 is ready to put me through my paces in the pool at her parents' Beckenham home.

First, though, I must slip into a suitably glitzy creation and am handed a diamanté strewn orange and black velvet costume made by Woolley's mother for a previous performance. Luckily, I don't have to slick back my hair with a paste made from cooking gelatine and hot water (marks are deducted for hairs out of place) or paint my face with waterproof make-up. I haven't, however, escaped the nose clip, which Woolley hands to me (to stop water going into my sinuses when I'm upside down) along with a white swimming cap and a pair of goggles. By now, it's too late to back out.

Then the lesson begins. First comes a "back layout", a seemingly simple position where I must keep my body horizontal, floating on the surface. My legs must be held tightly together, toes pointed and chin pushed towards the ceiling.

Simple? Not exactly. Every time I look to check my toes are pointing in the right direction, my bottom starts to sink. Woolley is nothing if not a determined coach though, and after she helps me straighten out somewhat, I am told to bend one leg at the knee to achieve the "sailboat" position before straightening it in the air – toes pointed, of course – in what is known as "ballet leg". And, as my head repeatedly ducks under the water, I am beginning to feel very fond of that nose clip.

I then try to do handstands, both in the shallow end and in slightly deeper water, where I also attempt "sculls" – small hand movements which keep one buoyant when upside down underwater. From a handstand I kick my legs apart to achieve a split leg position. A gold medallist can perform this with their legs out of water down to the thigh. Woolley advises me to try to stick mine out a few inches above my ankles. Still I struggle.

Exhausted by the continual treading water, or "egg beating", we move on to "boosts". Here, I have to jump out of the water, propelling myself not against anything as solid as the floor of the pool but simply by straightening my bent arms and legs to achieve lift. The professionals can reach hip height – the high legs of their costumes enable the judges to see skin when performing these lifts, giving a sense of height as well as a lengthening effect on the competitors' legs.

Doing a no-frills boost isn't too hard (although I reach chest, rather than hip, height) but when Woolley encourages me to try it with my arms in a balletic pose and a smile plastered on my face it loses its gloss.

With that the lesson ends. As a soloist, I can't attempt the lifts and throws of team events and am left to rest panting on the poolside. It seems synchro is more than just spangly swimming costumes and winning smiles – it's about iron muscles and a will of steel.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own