Dom Joly: I have tried but am just out of sync with this splashing about underwater

What this sport really needs are transparent costumes in dubious moral taste

Wednesday 20 August 2008 00:00

I have to admit that I haven't really paid many visits to the National Aquatic Centre (or the Water Cube as it's known) over the last 10 days. Watching people swim is not, in my eyes, terribly exciting.

I knew that every journalist in town was covering the Phelps phenomenon and I hoped that this might leave the coast clear for me in other, less popular events.

The press interest in the swimming has been quite extraordinary – there are two banks of seating in the Cube, one on each side of the pool, and one of the two is entirely for the media.

I popped in about a week ago to see the Men's 10-metre synchronised diving. Great Britain had this 14-year-old prodigy competing and I thought he might be worth a look. Sadly, we didn't do very well – we came last, in fact – and our "synchronised" pair became distinctly unsynchronised with the far older member of the duo blaming it all on the little guy.

They were doomed from the start, anyway, as they looked like Laurel and Hardy up there – different sizes, haircuts, attitudes. Other teams had similar builds and cut their hair exactly the same – they just looked more synchronised from the outset, never mind the actual diving.

What is it with this synchronised business, anyway? It only ever seems to happen in the pool and with the thousands of Olympic volunteers who you can see marching all around the place with military precision.

I looked down my list yesterday and saw that the snappily titled "women's duet free routine synchronised swimming preliminaries" were taking place. I just knew that I had to be there.

I must admit that I've always considered synchronised swimming (or "synchro" as they jazzily call it) to be a bit of a joke, but had never seen it live. I decide to try to be professional and go with an open mind. Promise.

The competition opens with an Egyptian pair. They both march out on to this raised platform in shiny diamante-encrusted swimsuits with their hair tightly scraped back, a copious amount of make-up slapped on to their perma-grinning faces. It is like some weird beauty pageant for air hostesses.

The music starts and they dive in and seem to do quite a bit of complicated stuff underwater. Sadly, we spectators are unable to see any of this as we are landlubbers. Then their legs appear out of the water and begin to wave about in synchronicity like fleshy egg-beaters. One of the girls then lifts the other out of the water and she strikes a broad-smiled pose before sinking back in to do yet more clever stuff underwater we can't see.

All this while simply terrible music is blaring out from huge speakers. I've had enough already but stay in my seat just to see if the other countries are any more entertaining – they're not.

My favourites are the Russian pair because they're the only duo not to smile inanely all the way through. They actually look quite scary and manage to be slightly less grating than the rest.

Now, before you all start writing in, I know that this is a very difficult "sport" to do. The muscles and training needed to perform are awesome and I couldn't do it in a month of Sundays. The thing is, I wouldn't want to.

It seems to be the sort of thing that people on day release are encouraged to do to keep them off the crystal meth. After half an hour I was longing for the sweet release of a crack pipe, suicide, anything to make it stop.

At times it looked like you were watching two people have simultaneous epileptic fits in a pool. They flail about waving their legs around, looking like they are in the final throes of a particularly vicious piranha attack. Now there's an idea, chuck a hungry shark in the pool and then you've got a spectator sport – painted steward being munched on by a great white, I'd pay good money to see that.

How does anyone even become a synchronised swimmer? Not only do you have to harbour some weird desire to do it when you're a kid, but you've got to find another freak to "synchronise" with.

How this ever got to be an Olympic event I'll never know. Maybe Baron Pierre de Coubertin had a special penchant for water sports.

The competition drags on and I haven't got a clue how long I've been here or where I am any more. I turn to the media guide on the British Olympic site for some much-needed guidance. To keep their hair tidy swimmers use gelatin that sticks it in place and the guide says the swimmers' costumes are designed to add to the overall impression of the routine and they must conform to Fina law, which states that they must be in good moral taste – they must also be non-transparent.

So wrong, transparent swimming costumes in dubious moral taste are just what this sport needs to put itself firmly on the must-see list. They need to lose the gelatin and let their hair down a bit. Until they do that, this one is strictly for the birds.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in