History of Artistic Swimming

The History of Artistic Swimming


Annette Kellermann begins the jurney

In the late 1800s, Australian champion swimmer Annette Kellermann travelled to the UK to attempt to make a living from this opportunity to swim for other people’s entertainment. While making some impact in England it was in America in 1907 that she was credited with popularising synchronised swimming through her performance of the first “water ballet” in a glass tank at the New York Hippodrome, and when she later launched her vaudeville career build as the “Diving Venus”.

Norman Ross, coined the term ‘synchronised swimming’

The sport was developed further by American swimmer Katherine Curtis, who had the idea of combining water acrobatics with music. Her students performed at the 1933–34 Chicago Century of Progress Fair, where the announcer, former Olympic swimming gold medallist Norman Ross, coined the term ‘synchronised swimming’.

The name is given

The name ‘synchronised swimming’ was coined in the US by an early water ballet exponent, D Curtis.

The competition starts

Synchronised swimming became an officially recognised sport in North America during the 50s when its two competitive sections were established: the compulsory figures, (then called ‘stunts’ or ‘skills’), and the routines which are choreographed to music and swum in the solo, duet and team events.

A Melbourne Association is established

The Melbourne Synchronised Swimming Club with headquarters at the ‘old’ City Baths had existed from the early 50s organised by Nada Marsden (Brazel) and swimming each Monday 9 to 10pm at four pounds. Nada had imported synchronised swimming knowledge/films from the US which formed a foundation for many colourful displays at the Melbourne Richmond indoor pool.

Swimming Victoria takes on synchronised swimming

In Victoria, Swimming Victorian (then known as the Victorian Amateur Swimming Association (VASA)) formed a synchronised swimming sub-committee headed by secretary, Mrs. Dot Quinton set to work to promote the sport and build on the already established expertise being enjoyed by club members of the ‘Melbourne Synchronised Swimming Association”.

US swimmer arrives in Melbourne

The late Mr Les Phillips of VASA was responsible for bringing the first US synchronised swimming champion, Beulah Gundling to Melbourne; her theatrical aquatic displays spread the water ballet/synchronised swimming word and soon swimming club girls were forming synchronised swimming groups to enjoy the fun of swimming in formation to music and learning ‘aquatic stunts’.

Melbourne Olympics display

The packed 1956 Olympic Stadium viewed a US synchronised swimming team routine and a Melbourne duet coached by Nada.

FINA adopts synchronised swimming

In the early 60s the FINA adopted ‘this extra dimension of swimming’. FINA federations around the world were encouraged to promote and teach synchronised swimming.

Perth Commonwealth games

Nada and her swimmers also took their routines to the 1962 Commonwealth Games, Perth.

The competition grows

From the early 60s the VASA Synchronised Swimming Committee conducted regular competitions, state championships and contributed swimmers/officials to Australian championships. In addition to Melbourne synchronised swimming club swimmers, competitors came from swimming clubs at Fawkner, Pascoe Vale, Brunswick and Surrey Park.

Narrow miss for Belgrade selection

Friedel Spacek, a synchronised swimmer who had learned early techniques in Germany started the Altona Pirouette synchronised swimming club. Friedel’s coaching produced a championship team and one of her swimmers, Kerry Eustace, became a Victorian and Australian Solo champion. Kerry narrowly missed Australian selection for the 1st World Swimming Championships in Belgrade 1973.

Canadian influence

Muriel Head , member of the Altona Pirouette Synchronised Swimming Club, visited the Canadian Championships in Toronto. Canada’s Synchro development started in the 1920s and had slightly different interpretations. Muriel brought an international coach from Toronto to help Victorian synchronised swimming. Mary Jane Ling’s technical expertise and training programs progressed Victorian synchronised swimming.

International competition

With the advent of the Pan Pacific Synchronised Swimming Championships in the 70s, Australia had a greater opportunity for international competition.

Melbourne Teachers course delivered

The developing sport required regular educational clinics for judging and coaching; as well as established qualification standards for all officials. As a result, the Victorian Teachers Course for Synchronised Swimming Basics was written and delivered in Melbourne, November, 1977.

Melbourne 1983 Pan Pacifics

The Melbourne 1983 Pan Pacific Synchronised Swimming Competition was a Victorian highlight and financial success with teams visiting from Canada, USA, Japan and New Zealand. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentary film of the event was acclaimed in Canada as the most enjoyable and factual illustration of synchronised swimming yet seen.

Synchro becomes an Olympic sport

Synchronised swimming became an Olympic sport at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games.

The world comes to Melbourne

The World Aquatics Championship is held by FINA every 2 years and in 2007 it was held in Melbourne.