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What is the difference between synchronized swimming and artistic swimming?

As we get set to be wowed by the grace, agility, choreography and strength of the Tokyo Olympic water dancers, one question continues to be posed.

What is the difference between synchronized swimming and artistic swimming?

Synchronization is everything when it comes to artistic swimming, a discipline that once again will be appearing in the Olympic Games. Actually, that first statement is not entirely true.

Olympic Games news:

Artistic swimming, yes, it is the formal name for what is often referred to as synchronized swimming, is so much more. It 'combines technical perfection, synchronisation, choreography, artistry and expressive power,' to take the official Olympics description.

It was back in the Games of 1984 in Los Angeles when artistic swimming first made an appearance under the five colored rings. The competition has been tweaked along the way but since the turn of the century it has seen a consistent format, with both the duet and team event. There are two routines accompanied with music - which is made possible thanks to clever underwater speakers - the first being the 'technical' routine, with designated moves and shorter time limit, and the 'free' routine, which is open to creativity and imagination.

Olympic artistic swimming: when can I see it?

The Tokyo Aquatic Center will host the artistic swimming competition of the Tokyo Olympic Games and it begins on 2 August. The final medals will be awarded after the team free event on 7 August. Here is how the various elements are split out (all times ET USA):

Artistic swimming schedule:

  • Monday 2 August, 6:30 am - Free Duet Preliminary
  • Tuesday 3 August, 6:30 am - Technical Duet
  • Wednesday 4 August, 6:30 am - Free Duet Final (medals)
  • Friday 6 August, 6:30 am - Technical Team
  • Saturday 7 August, 6:30 am - Free Team (medals)

Artistic swimming: technical or free routine?

The 'free' test has a duration of three to four minutes, is performed to music and the scoring is based on difficulty, technique and choreography.


In the free routine, a panel of judges decides on a score based on execution, synchronization and difficulty. Another panel scores on choreography, musical interpretation and presentation. The third and last panel scores for difficulty.

As for penalties, one point is subtracted for exceeding the time limit and two for touching the bottom of the pool. Yes, when the swimmers fire up above the surface it's all water-generated!

Differences with the technical routine

As its name suggest, in the free routine there is more freedom in relation to the creation of the choreography and there is no need to perform any compulsory movements. But for that same reason, it may be more difficult than the technical routine (which requires five designated moves), as a high level of creativity and mastery must be shown.

Rules of the free routine

Swimmers are not permitted to wear transparent clothing in competition and they are not allowed to be out of the water for more than 10 seconds.

In addition to that, as mentioned above, athletes will be penalised if they touch the bottom or the edges of the pool. These measures apply to both the free routine and the technical routine.


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