Sync or Swim was an article about a journalist (Fiona Golfar) who had a fantasy about being a synchronized swimmer due to it being her mother’s life long dream and pretending to be Esther Williams “”Probably my most enduring memory is of Joan [Golfar’s mother] pretending to be Esther Williams in the pool. For this, she tied her hair up with a purple scrunchie, but unfortunately, having gone under the surface, as she rose the purple dye ran down all over her face and hair. We just died laughing.”” When Golfar was given the offer to train with the Olympic squad she says;
…already seeing myself in full Ethser tribute look, with my mum gazing down from the big pool in the sky, mouthing “Smile!” as I elegantly pirouette in the water.
It soon transpires that the Olympic sport couldn’t be further from the Hollywood nymphets wearing sequined caps sliding down waterfalls and emerging from the water in full make-up. No, these 13 girls trains seven hours a day…Many have been preparing for this moment since they were seven years old. Their bodies are lithe and honed, their diets strictly regulated, their world dominated by perfecting their technical merit.
I decided to focus on this article because although it does sound glamorous, it shows the commitment of the swimmers as well, celebrating how far they are able to push their bodies as Golfar is a competent swimmer, but even she struggles to learn the basic maneuvers of synchronized swimming.
When she first goes to see the squad in training at an army base she says;
No water ballet here. no siree, this is Olga Korbut (the legendary Soviet Olympic gymnast) on acid. I have never seen anything move so fast in so many different directions at once and on top of water. The girls lift, twist, glide, flip and split their arms and legs and that’s just when they are upside-down. Afterwards, the rest of the squad join them for their technical group performance. They move across the water like a shoal of glistening mackerel dynamically mixing aerobics, gymnastics and dance. I am torn between amazement and nausea. I have to return to London and start training.
Golfar begins training the next day with Laila Vakil a former Olympic synchronized swimmer who has trained some of the girls on the current squad. She teaches Golfar sculling which is the most basic move and keeps the swimmer gliding on the surface with all other movements revolving and varying around the scull.
Ten minutes later, I am exhausted. The key to synchronized swimming is core strength and although mine is not bad, compared to an Olympic squad, let’s just say I am some what lacking.
As well as the moves and the energy required, Golfar also gave us an insight into how the swimmers lives shut down in the lead up to the Olympics and their life becomes a routine of eating, swimming and sleeping to ensure they are in top shape for their performance;
Although it’s easy to see the comic side of my learning to swim with these talented women, I am acutely aware that the Olympics is only weeks away. The squad have moved to Aldershot and train 42 hours a week, alongside an army of coaches, nutritionists, physiotherapists and sports psychologists, perfecting their intense choreographed routines with endless technical drills.
On the surface, 42 hours boils down to approximately 6 hours a day which, considering the average 9 to 5 working day is 9 hours…it doesn’t sound too bad. But pushing your body to the edge, exercising relentlessly until you have perfection for 6 hours regardless of what else is going on in your life is insane. Think of the hardest most grueling workout you’ve ever done, and imagine doing that for 6 hours. Now imagine it for 6 hours everyday. Now 6 hours everyday and nothing else in your life but the exercise and pursuit of perfection. Now your getting there…
During the next session Golfar is taught the egg-beater which keeps the swimmers on top of the water by going into a crunch position and rotating your legs from the knee down in opposite directions;
Back in the water, I try to put the egg-beater into practice but my hips go on strike. The fact that the girls are in the water seven hours a day and never allowed to touch the bottom of the pool beggars belief.
On the day of the photo shoot with the swimmers Golfar talks to Adele (who I assume is the current squad trainer) about the progression of the sport;
Adele tries hard not to laugh. “Obviously there’s a place for the Fifties glamour side as entertainment,” she says kindly,” but the sport has evolved since. It’s very physical and athletic. It’s completely different to the Esther Williams days.” Sorry, Mum.