The historically female sport of synchronized swimming is about to get an injection of testosterone.
With FINA’s recent decision to add mixed-gender events to its international championships, the door is open for co-ed competition in the 2015 FINA World Championships in Kazan, Russia, July 24-Aug. 9 -- and by extension, in club and regional competition nationwide.
FINA voted for the addition of Mixed Duet events in synchronized swimming and diving at the Extraordinary Congress in Doha, Qatar, in December.
“I feel that this event can be a strength for the USA,” said USA Synchro Executive Director Kevin Warner. “I was told that our organization proposed this event several years ago, so we are very excited to have the opportunity to showcase one of our strengths to the world.”
Warner’s happiness, however, is not shared by Russia, according to an article in Yahoo! News. Russian synchro champions and coaches have been vocal in their opposition to the change.
"I'd probably have decided against it. I wouldn't have approved this issue," Angelika Timanina, an Olympic champion in 2012 and eight-time world champion with Russia's national team, told The Associated Press. "We're used to classical synchronized swimming, feminine synchronized swimming."
Synchronized swimming should be "a purely feminine sport" and introducing mixed competition is "mistaken," Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko told Russian agency R-Sport. He even hinted that the introduction of mixed duets was the result of pressure from Russia's rivals. "Evidently, some kind of group of countries has pushed this through," he said.
Until now, male synchronized swimmers have been forced to stage their own competitions away from the official FINA schedule or to perform at non-competitive shows. Many male swimmers, such as those competing in the men's group discipline, remained out in the cold.
The Yahoo! Article noted the inclusion of mixed-gender events “could threaten Russia's total dominance of a sport in which it has won every available Olympic gold medal this century. It also challenges gender roles in a country whose government has made a point of promoting images of traditional masculinity.
Olympic 100-meter butterfly silver medalist Evgeny Korotyshkin told Russian media last month that he might cry at the sight of a male synchronized swimmer's ‘hairy legs poking out of the pool.’
However, Elena Markoch, a coach who has trained several of Russia's Olympic champions, said Russians will eventually warm to male synchronized swimmers with the passion currently shown to the country's male figure skating stars.”
FINA approved the addition of mixed duets in both the technical and free competitions. Currently, men don’t compete in synchro in any capacity at the Olympics, the FINA World Aquatics Championships or at the FINA Synchro World Cup. Male participation in the sport, however, has been growing, and they are frequently seen in national-level competitions in the U.S., Canada, and France, among other places. There is a growing international championship for men in compliance with FINA regulations called the Men’s Cup.
In the US, veteran performer and synchro athlete Bill May is preparing for the Worlds with his female partners for the technical and free competitions, and is considered one of the leading contenders for a podium spot. Russia's lineup includes just one elite-level male synchronized swimmer, 17-year-old Alexander Maltsev.
The Duel in the Pool will play out this summer. In the meantime, synchronized swimming clubs across the U.S. – from which, historically, the U.S. women’s team members have come – may be looking at new programs, and ultimately, events, that will include mixed duet competition.