In a change that has likely gone unnoticed by a vast majority, the rules to qualify for the Olympic Games in artistic/synchronized swimming have changed. There were no big announcements from FINA, but the modifications are there.
3/25/18 addendum: it has been brought to my attention that while these changes appear in FINA’s By Laws documents, the IOC has not yet approved this new format. We do not have any further information as to when it will be approved.
In the last few Olympic cycles, eight teams and 24 duets would compete at the Games. For the team event, the best from each of the five continents obtained a spot in the team competition, including the host country. The three best ranked teams at the test event earned the last spots for the Games.
Now, 10 teams will be able to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Just as before, the best five teams from each continent will have a spot, including the host country. For 2020, Japan will take up the ‘Asia’ quota.
Then, the first two teams from the world championships not previously qualified through the continental quota will earn a spot, based on the combined results of the free and technical routines. Finally, the remaining three spots will be awarded to the best ranked teams at the test event.
If we look at the current world hierarchy, we can speculate on the potential of some countries to make it to 2020. The five continental teams would likely be Japan (host), Russia (Europe), Egypt (Africa), Australia (Oceania), and Mexico or Canada for the Americas.
The next two teams to qualify out of worlds will likely be China and Ukraine. The remaining three spots from the test event would be fought between Italy, Spain, Mexico/Canada, Greece, and France. North Korea, the U.S. and Belarus have a long shot, although Belarus got dangerously close to France at the French Open a few weeks ago in the technical team event, and there are still two years to go so the hierarchy is at high risks of being shaken up.
These changes are exciting as we will get a stronger showing of teams in the Olympics, with likely the best eight teams in the world in Tokyo thanks to this new qualification system instead of the best six – and we only had the best five in Rio. This will also maybe encourage many swimmers in some of those countries that are on the bubble to stick around and help their team to a potential qualification.
In order to make room for two more teams, the number of duets has been reduced to 22. The rules for the duets qualifications haven’t changed much. Each of the 10 qualified teams will automatically have its duet earn a spot as well. Then, the best ranked duet in each of the continental championships will obtain a place. The remaining open positions will be allocated according to the rankings at the test event.
For more detailed information on the new qualification rules, you can read up in FINA By Laws’ document available on its website.