History of synchronized swimming

Elements of synchronized swimming – specific strokes, floating, figures, etc. – are as old as swimming itself and date back thousands of years. Modern synchronized swimming began to develop around the turn of the 20th Century, with a group being founded in England in 1892 and a similar men’s competition taking place in Canada in 1898.

But the sport got its biggest boost from traveling water shows, and subsequently, from Hollywood. Starting in 1907, Annette Kellerman performed shows in a glass tank around the world, and her life was later made into a movie, Neptune’s Daughter, staring Esther Williams.

Katherine Curtis, known as the “mother of synchronized swimming in the United States,” helped push the sport forward in 1915 when she added music to the routines. Eventually, the strokes were synched up with the beats in the music, as in dancing. From 1933-1934, a group led by Curtis performed at the Chicago Century of Progress Fair, drawing crowds of up to 10,000. The term “synchronized swimming” was coined by announcer Norman Ross at those shows.

Frank Havlicek, a student of Curtis’ at Chicago’s Wright Junior College, was a key force in the development of competitive synchronized swimming. In 1939, he suggested that collegiate routines could be turned into competitions between schools. Rules were created, and in May of 1939, the first known competition, an event between Wright Junior College and Chicago Teachers College, took place. The AAU sanctioned to sport in 1940, and in 1946, the first national championships were held.

The sport developed in Canada beginning in 1951, and the two North American nations helped spread the sport to the rest of the world. In 1954, synchronized swimming was adopted as an official discipline by FINA, the world governing body of aquatic sports. Exactly 30 years later, synchronized swimming made its Olympic debut at the Los Angles Games.