Whenever I meet a new person and they learn that I am an Olympic synchronized swimmer, I always get asked the same questions. I almost wish I could have a tape recorder that would play my answers because they are literally the same each time...SO, I thought I would answer some of them here!
1) “Did you win?”
This is literally the #1 question people ask about being an Olympian. To be honest, I dislike this question because it shows that people care more about medals and winning than the actual accomplishment of competing in the Olympic Games. Whenever I say that no, we did not win, I always get the “Ohh...that’s too bad...well at least you still got to go!” Obviously winning a medal would have been amazing, but simply having the opportunity to compete on the world’s biggest stage was the most memorable and rewarding time of my life. Even someone who gets last place at the Olympics is one of the best in the world at their discipline and deserves the same respect as a medalist.
2) “What was the Olympic village like?”
In 2012, an article came out that talked about how wild the athlete village is at the Olympics, and ever since then people love asking about it. Let’s be real here - when you’ve spent your entire life preparing to compete at the Olympic Games, by the time you get there you are like a pressure cooker. You’re stressed, tired, and under an enormous amount of pressure to perform to the best of your ability. So when you’re done competing and it’s all over, yes, you want to relax and let loose. Because the synchro competition is during the second week of the Olympics, I often had a hard time sleeping because athletes who were done competing were roaming around the village and making noise. However, the village isn’t as crazy as it may seem! There are no room parties with loud music, kegs and a dance floor because alcohol is strictly forbidden. Of course, some athletes find a way to sneak it in, but mostly people go outside of the village to party, so that’s where the real fun happens.
3) “How long can you hold your breath?”
I think a lot of people still have the perception that synchro swimmers wear flower caps and wiggle their legs while holding their breath for minutes on end. In reality, there’s not really an answer to the question of how long we can hold our breath. We don’t sit with a stopwatch and try to beat our breath-holding record until we nearly pass out. Nowadays, what’s considered difficult isn’t how long you can stay underwater, but how quickly you can move, change angles and patterns while being upside down. The speed of movement has increased dramatically in the last ten years, and when combined with the difficulty of those movements, that’s really what makes a routine impressive, rather than how long a swimmer can stay underwater. With that being said, I’m sure that a synchro swimmer’s lung capacity is greater than that of an average person, but it’s not like we can hold our breath for ten minutes (although I’ve heard of some swimmers who can hold up to four!).
4) “What’s it like being an Olympian?”
For me, becoming an Olympian was fulfilling a dream that took so much blood, sweat and tears. It’s extremely rewarding to say that I am part of an elite group of athletes who can call themselves Olympians. However, in so many other ways I am similar to other people who are not Olympians. Like many others, I sometimes struggle with motivation, body image and consistency, among other things. There’s been times when I am having a hard time with a workout and someone will say “come on, you’re an Olympian, you should be good at this” Just because I went to the Olympics doesn’t mean I am good at everything! We are not superhuman, but I do think that all elite athletes share certain qualities like dedication, resilience and hard work. Without those qualities we wouldn’t have reached those far-fetched goals!
5) “How do you stay up in the water?”
Synchronized swimmers do not magically float up above the water - it requires a lot of work and effort! Unlike land athletes like gymnasts or figure skaters, we don’t have the ground to use as support. We have to generate our own energy and power to propel ourselves out of the water. When upright, we use eggbeater (same technique as water polo players), and upside down we use different types of sculls, which are specific motions with our arms. There are sculls for different movements and positions - most commonly we are in “support scull”, where your arms are bent at 90 degrees next to your body and you move your forearms in and out to create pressure, but other times our arms are above our head or next to our sides. It all depends on what movements we are doing with our legs and body. You need a lot of arm and core strength to be able to sustain yourself out of the water. To build this strength, we train on land with exercises like pushups, planks and band work, and in the water we do stationary position holds, which also builds endurance.