Every four years, we watch. We marvel at badminton and wonder about the modern decathlon. With more than 300 gold medals awarded across 37 disciplines, our lives are suddenly much less productive. To aid in your immersion, we continue with our daily edition of "know your Olympic sport," by diving into synchronized swimming.
Inside we'll explain what the sport has in common with the war on terror and why every swimmer worth her hair bun abides by the power of horse cartilage. Go ahead, check it out. Nobody is looking, and we won't tell.
The Cheat Sheet
We're making the fairly safe assumption that you don't frequent synchronized swimming meets. So below is a cheat sheet of odd quasi-science facts about the sport. Use them at your own risk. Read through these, we promise to explain the terrorist reference. Come on, you've come this far.
• Synchronized performances last four minutes, three of which the swimmers are often underwater. Teams will regularly remain underwater for a full minute during a routine. We remind you that while submersed, they do all sorts of crazy acrobatics we couldn't do with a trampoline and a bottle of muscle relaxant. They train for this by swimming laps underwater without coming up. Most swimmers can hold their breath for around three minutes and swim 75 meters without grabbing some oxygen. Try that this weekend.
• The secret to the perfect hair that doesn't seem to move is horse cartilage. Yep, swimmers buy a package of regular Knox (a.k.a. unflavored Jello), mix it with water and then brush it on their hair before competition. The key ingredient in the paste, though, is soft equine cartilage (a main component of Knox) that is apparently quite healthy for the hair. The paste keeps the hair stiff and in place throughout competition. A shower in really hot water is the only way to break loose.
• According the USOC, the synchronized swimming team practices more than any other sport. Between eight and ten hours a day, six days a week. The sport was also the first to pick its Olympic squad, so they've been doing this a while.
• The US team has won more Olympic gold medals since the sport's inception in 1984 than any other country (five, but Russia has four and is gaining fast).
• Christina Jones of the US team is one of three synchronized swimmers in the world who doesn't wear a nose clip (most even carry a spare in their suit). Jones relies on pressing her lips up against her nose to keep water out and sucks a little more air in when her head is above water.
my original intention was to comment on the articles seemingly sexist reference to these elite athletes as "attractive blondes". but, after looking it up, the 2008 olympic team is composed of a large majority of blonde women which just makes me wonder if pop sci has fully explored the scientific correlation between blonde hair and exceptional synchronized swimming ability.
I think the correlation is between spending 48-60 hours a week in a chlorinated pool and becoming blonde.
When I was very young synchronized swimming was a favored sport in our family. We would sit through many championships whilst my sister dreamed of becoming one of those wonderful dancers in water. Esther Williams, my grandmothers favorite actress, was if you recall a fabulous synchronized swimmer and her movies depicted such talent and beauty.