History of Artistic Swimming


Artisitc Swimming (formerly known as synchronised swimming) has been around for a long time. As far back as 1890 men demonstrated "Scientific Ornamental Swimming" at Blackpool Tower.

In 1891, the Royal Life Saving Society of Great Britain (RLSS) published a handbook for swimmers encouraging “ornamental swimming” or “scientific swimming." The sport developed from life saving and swimming techniques and the first contests, held in 1891 in Berlin and 1892 in London, were for men. However, artistic swimming became accepted as better suited to women because they were more buoyant, especially in the legs, and able to better make pictures with their bodies on the surface of the water.


By the early 1930s teams of ladies swam patterns in the water which changed when a whistle was blown. Usually there was some background music.

1940's to 1960's

Esther Williams did much to arouse interest in water ballet when she starred in several films between the 1940's and 1960's. Musical swimming extravaganzas were in vogue for some time.

Synchronised swimming has changed a great deal since those early days and is comprised of increasingly complicated figures and taxing routines both solo, with a partner and in a team of between four to eight swimmers.


"Synchro" has been an Olympic sport since 1984. Originally all three types of routine, solo, duet and team, were entered with a "knock out" round of figures to determine who should swim.


Carolyn MacDonald (nee Wilson), born 11 March 1959, is one of Great Britain's most successful synchronised swimmers. She was European Solo Champion in 1981, 1983 and 1985, becoming the first British woman swimmer to win a European gold medal three times in succession. With the Duet and Team wins in 1981 and 1983 Carolyn holds a total of 7 European Gold medals. Great Britian’s synchronized swimming duet of Caroline Holmyard and Caroline Wilson came in fourth place overall in the 1984 Olympic Games.



However, in 1996 it was decided to make synchro a team and duet event with a maximum number of teams. These teams from all countries would have to qualify prior to the Olympic Games in order to participate. Other changes were introduced for 1996 Games, the figure competition was replaced by a "Technical Programme" in which a number of set moves were performed in a certain order. (This is rather similar to ice skating.)

A famous quote compares artistic swimming with running 800 metres whilst holding your breath and trying to look effortless and graceful at the same time. Fortunately it is no longer necessary to smile all the time and facial expressions are determined by the type of music being used.

Scientific Ornamental Swimming at the Blackpool Tower, 1800's
Esther Williams, Competitive Swimmer & Actress. Star of swimming movies between the 1940's and 1960's
Caroline Holmyard & Carolyn Wilson
4th Place GB Duet in the 1984 Olympic Games
(Copyright Imasportsphile III, Youtube.com)
1930's, ladies sychro team

Portsmouth Victoria SC,

Artistic Swimming

Portsmouth, Hampshire


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  • Portsmouth Victoria Synchro
  • Portsmouth Victoria Synchro
  • Portsmouth Victoria Synchro
  • Portsmouth Victoria Synchro