A Guide to Artistic Swimming at the Olympics

Are you about to watch artistic swimming, formerly synchronized swimming, for the first time? Do you really just pay attention to it every four years during the Olympic Games? Or do you already enjoy it, want to learn a little bit more about the sport, and find out what to look for in Tokyo? You’re in the right place!

When will artistic swimming be held at the Tokyo Games?

The artistic swimming events will happen during the second week of the Olympics, from August 2 – 7, in the Tokyo Aquatics Centre.

The duet competition will be held from August 2 – 4, while the team events will occur from August 6 – 7.

All times local.

August 2, 7:30 p.m. — Free Duet Preliminary

August 3, 7:30 p.m. — Technical Duet

August 4, 7:30 p.m. — Free Duet Final

August 6, 7:30 p.m. — Technical Team

August 7, 7:30 p.m. — Free Team


What is the format of the competition?

There are only two medal events at the Olympics: duet and team. 10 teams of eight swimmers and 22 duets will compete. A total of 104 artistic swimmers will compete. They all have to be at least 15 years old.

Each country will swim a technical and a free routine. Both scores will then be added up to determine the rankings and the medal winners.

The competition will start with the duets on August 2. All 22 pairs will swim during the first two days. The technical and free scores will then be added to determine the qualification rankings. The top 12 will move on to the final on August 4.

There, they will only swim the free routine. The rankings will once again be determined by combining the technical score with this free score from finals.

The team events will start on August 6. There are no qualification rounds, and all 10 teams will swim on both days. Like in the duet, the final ranking will be determined by adding the technical team score to the free team score.

Of note, other events like solos, mixed duets, free combination and highlight (with 10 athletes) do exist. They are included in other major international competitions like World or European Championships.

Who is qualified?

The 10 qualified teams are: Australia, Canada, China, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Japan, Russian Olympic Committee, Spain, Ukraine.

The 22 qualified duets are: Australia, Austria, Belarus, Canada, China, Colombia, Egypt, France, Great Britain, Greece, Kazakhstan, Israel, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Mexico, the Netherlands, Russian Olympic Committee, South Africa, Spain, Ukraine, the U.S.A.

More details on the qualification procedure are available here. The entry list of all artistic swimmers is here.

How does the scoring work in artistic swimming?

There are 15 judges scoring each routine. They will be split into three panels of five judges each.

Each judge will give out a score on a scale from zero to 10. The highest and lowest scores in each panel will be dropped, and the remaining three will be added together. 

The total routine score will be the sum of all three panel scores, less any penalty deductions if incurred. Examples of penalties include touching the bottom of the pool (no, swimmers cannot ever touch or use the bottom), or going overtime in the walk-in, deckwork, or routine itself.

The technical and free events have slightly different judging panels.

  • Technical Events

The technical routines have panels for Execution, Impression, and Elements

These routines have a few composition requirements that each country must fulfill. Both duets and teams have to perform five technical elements. They are all the same for everybody, and they must be done in the same order. Each element has an assigned degree of difficulty (DD). If it is not done exactly as described in the Code of Points, the country may receive a zero.

In addition to these five elements, there are a few more specifications, including acrobatic movements or a cadence action in the team for example. More details on the actual requirements are available here for the duets, and here for the teams.

The Elements will be the most important in these routines, worth 40% of the total score. 

Execution weighs 30%. Judges in this panel look at both the synchronization and the execution (extension, sharpness, stability, control, strength…) of each movement that does not have an assigned DD. 

Impression is worth the final 30% of the score. It incorporates the difficulty of all movements that are not the required elements, choreography, manner of presentation, and music interpretation.

  • Free Events

The free events are a lot more… free. The routines are longer, and there are no composition requirements.

The three panels will be for Execution, Artistic Impression, and Difficulty. The breakdown is a bit different, with artistic impression counting for 40% of the final score, and execution and difficulty 30% each. Unlike in the technical routines, the difficulty here is separated from the impression and is thus a lot more valued.

If you would like to dive a bit deeper into the scoring system and what each panel fully encompasses, you can check out our explanation page, or get into the actual manual.


Ultimately, it truly is all about making it look effortless. The best teams at the Olympics will have the whole package. They will perform high difficulty with long, complex and controlled hybrids. The swimmers will move fast and seamlessly throughout the pool and in each of their movement, while showing near-perfect execution and synchronization. They will swim very close together in tight patterns, and showcase their well-researched choreography and artistry. Lastly, the athletes will aim to nail original, risky and unique acrobatics.

Finally, there is also an official referee who oversees everything to make sure there are no shenanigans afoot.

Who are the favorites for the medals?

In 2016, Russia, China and Japan won medals in duet and team, in that order. 

The Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) team is the clear favorite to win again in both events in Tokyo. The Russians have won every single duet or team Olympic title since 2000. The pressure to maintain this legacy is immense, but they aren’t about to falter anytime soon. The team returns six Olympians, including Svetlana Romashina, who already has five Olympic gold medals on her resume. 

The Russian team is a textbook example of flawless execution, synchronization and transition, mastery in technique and difficulty, and originality in artistry. 

China will look to challenge ROC for the gold. The Chinese return five Olympians, but they will need to be absolutely perfect if they want to upset. The nation has however not competed internationally since the 2019 World Championships. Their strength lies in their technical skills, particularly their elements, and may come close to ROC in the technical routines. In duet, Huang Xuechen and Sun Wenyan will aim to defend their silver medal from 2016.

Ukraine and Japan have been neck-and-neck in the race for bronze at every major international competition over the last two quads, so the fight should continue here. At these Games, Ukraine is hungry for its first-ever Olympic medals.

Ever since 2016, Ukraine has inched closer and closer to Japan. In 2019, it finally and confidently moved ahead of the home team in both Olympic events. Its impressive rise in the last few years make it a strong contender for bronze in Tokyo. Make sure to watch the Ukrainians in the team events, as they truly are one of the best and most impressive squads in terms of acrobatics.

Japan is usually superb in technique and execution. It will not be easy for the Japanese to move ahead of the Ukrainians again, but they will of course fight until the end to win a medal at their home Olympics.

Who are some athletes to look out for and other fun facts?

Svetlana Romashina will swim in the duet and team events for ROC. She already has won five Olympic titles. If she wins two more, she will become the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history.

– Egypt’s Maryam Maghraby will make her senior international debut, and will be the youngest swimmer (16 years and 9 months old). Krystalenia Gialama from Greece isn’t far behind, at 16 years and 11 months old. The oldest, and undoubtedly one of the most accomplished athletes of the entire field, will be Ukraine’s Kseniya Sydorenko (35 years and 1 month old)

– Four mothers will compete: Svetlana Romashina and Aleksandra Patksevich (ROC), Huang Xuechen (CHN), and Ona Carbonell (ESP). All took a one to two-year break to have their children, and returned to elite for one more Olympics. 

– Four pairs of twins as well as two triplet sisters have qualified to Tokyo: Anna Maria and Eirini Alexandri (AUT), Charlotte and Laura Tremble (FRA), Alexandra and Yekaterina Nemich (KAZ), Bregje and Noortje de Brouwer (NED) and Maryna and Vladyslava Aleksiiva (UKR). The first four pairs will swim in the duet events, while the Ukrainian twins will compete in the team routines.

Liechtenstein will make its first, historical appearance at the Olympics in artistic swimming in the duet event. Greece qualified a team for the first time since 2004, while the Netherlands will be back in duet for the first time since 2008. South Africa will have a duet for the first time since 1992.

– Finally, Tokyo will be the fourth Olympics for Huang, Romashina and Sydorenko.

Are there men competing in Olympic artistic swimming?

No, men cannot compete at the Olympic Games in artistic swimming. It is one of only two women-only events at the Olympics, besides rhythmic gymnastics. Men can however swim at the World Championships in mixed duets, and at the European Championships in all events.


Cover photo: Deepbluemedia

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