Reflected glory: Is synchronised swimming on the up?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Will the sport continue to be an object of ridicule here now that we're getting good at it?

Synchronised swimming might be one of the more outlandish Olympic disciplines but, be in no doubt, this is mortal combat, with sequins and industrial quantities of eyeliner serving as the weapons.

In a beguiling procession of flashing legs, snarling mouths and batting eyelids, the final of the London 2012 women's duet event was held to rapturous applause from aficionados as aquatic sporting endeavour met, well, Strictly Come Dancing.

And, for a sport which has roots in America's music halls and has been dominated by Russia for more than a decade, Britain is getting pretty good at it. Jenna Randall and Olivia Federici, the first Britons to appear in an Olympic final for 20 years, produced a remarkable "free routine" of spins and leaps to take ninth place in the final with 177.2 points, ahead of France and the United States.

It represented a highly respectable march up the world rankings for a sport which Britain only started taking seriously five years ago.

The British pair, who finished 14th in Beijing are now firmly established in the global top 10 in this hybrid of swimming, disco and human dressage, where a hair out of place is a potential route to losing marks for artistic impression.

Jenna, 23, who along with her partner has been putting in 45 hours a week in the pool in an Army barracks in Aldershot, predicted further progress for the sport's British proponents. She said: "In Beijing we didn't make the final, so it was great to be a part of it at home this year. Hopefully for the next Olympics we'll be even higher up."

Whereas some of the other finalists went down the path that gave synchronised swimming its original moniker of "water ballet", the British pair were nothing if not edgy. The Spanish pair, eventual silver medallists, performed to the strains of a tango and the French whirled to Swan Lake with a few inflections of Harry Potter, while the girls from Ascot and Plymouth strutted their stuff to the Chemical Brothers.

The action for all competitors starts before they have entered the water. Each pair strides on to a platform in a dazzling display of diamante, nose clips and, in the case of the host nation's pair, the sort of baring of teeth that says, "Out of our way you lot, we perform to Mancunian big beat, not Tchaikovsky".

So far, so justified is the sport's reputation as faintly ludicrous. But there is no denying the athleticism, strength and aggression required to perform at this level. As the Spanish coach, Ana Tarres Campa, put it: "You can only win by fighting."

The sport has its own language to describe each element of a routine, from hand movements or "sculls" such as the "torpedo" or "split arm" to the all-important leg movement that produces stability beneath the water while shapes are being thrown above it, known as the Egg Beater.

And then there are the legs. Whereas the dancers of the Kirov or Covent Garden are least accorded the pleasure of drawing breath to wow the crowds, the synchronised swimmers perform some of their most demanding manoeuvres – thrusting their pins skywards in a multiplicity of shapes – while submerged, upside down and unable to see what each other is doing.

By the close of proceedings, even the Chinese, not known for defeatism, admitted there was only every going to be one winner. Wearing the garb of two ninja babushka dolls, the Russians Natalia Ischenko and Svetlana Romashina dismantled their opponents with a display of such precision it earned them 197.1 points out of 200.

Amid some griping from other teams that the judging in the sport remains unpredictably subjective, let it not be forgotten that behind the rictus grins and exaggerated make-up lies a terrifying – and slightly incomprehensible – pursuit of perfection. As Ischenko put it: "I hope the judges did not see the mistakes our coaches saw."

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing