What Is Changing With The New Artistic Swimming Rules?

In short: a whole lot.

In artistic swimming, the rules are usually revised the year after the Olympic Games. This cycle is no exception, although this time the entire scoring system is being overhauled. 

Let’s dive into some of the main changes ahead of the 2022-2025 competitive cycle. Bear in mind that all must still be voted on at the FINA Technical Congress held from October 3-5. They are however expected to be approved and to come into play in a few months.

NEW SCORING SYSTEM

As previously discussed, this new scoring system will be more scientifically and mathematically-based. That’s undoubtedly the biggest and most significant change to the entire rulebook this time around.

  • Elements and Degree of Difficulty

First of all, each routine will now have a set number of Elements. Elements can be the technical required elements, free hybrids, and acrobatics.

Essentially, one is only allowed to do so many things in a routine. Doing more or anything different than what is required will lead to penalties. No extra hybrids or acrobatics are allowed, declared or not declared.

The document below details the set numbers of Elements per routines:

 

Each of these Elements will now have a predetermined Degree of Difficulty (DD). This article will not go into details on how to calculate these DDs, but guides for the acrobatics and hybrids are already available on FINA’s website for those who do want to dive into it.

Prior to a competition, every coach has to submit a Coach Card for every single routine. These Coach Cards detail each Element in a routine in order of appearance, as well as their DD and Base Mark.

All free Elements (hybrids and acrobatics) will have a calculated Base Mark that is the minimum DD that will be applied if one or more components of the Element is not performed, or is not in conformance to what is declared in the Coach Card.  For example for a hybrid, the Base Mark depends on the number of movements performed and the time spent underwater, two parameters common to all possible hybrids. 

  • Judging of Each Routine

The panels of judges as well as the judging itself will naturally change. First of all, two panels of five judges will officiate across all routines: one panel for Elements, and one for Artistic Impression

The Elements panel will award one execution score to each Element. This means that, for example, each judge will give out 11 separate scores for one free team routine, as it will have 11 Elements in total: seven free hybrids and four acrobatics.

The Artistic Impression judges will each award three scores to each routine: one for choreography and musicality, one for performance, and one for transitions.

Choreography and musicality considers the creativity, variety and innovation of all movements, how they all weave together between artistic and technical elements, as well as the pool coverage and the use of music.

Performance is all about manner of presentation, the use of body language to express the routine, and the total command and confidence of a performance. This also means that the walk-on is now judged and will count towards the final score.

Transitions look into the artistry and mastery of varied and purposeful movements, propulsions, and strokes that link all the routine elements together.

These 10 judges will give out scores on a scale from 0 – 10, but now using 0.25 points increments.

 

Finally, two groups of three Technical Controllers will look at the routines: one group for Difficulty and one for Synchronization

The Difficulty Technical Controllers are responsible for checking the accuracy of each DD declared on the Coach Card, and that it actually matches what is being done in the water. 

The Synchronization Technical Controllers will record the number and kinds of synchronization mistakes. The sum of all errors will be deducted from the Elements score. 

There are three kinds of synchronization mistakes:

  • Minor (0.1 points): slight differences that cannot be considered as two different movements.
  • Obvious (0.5 points): any unintentional difference in matching that produces the effect of two movements being done. It is different from the next category as all swimmers do the movement, but they are clearly not synchronized. 
  • Major (3.0 points): any error that produces an alteration in routine content. A major error is clearly a movement missed by one or more athletes, or a hybrid not completed.

There will be no synchronization technical controllers for the solo events.

New penalties are also appearing with this new system, often of two points for not respecting the rules and routine requirements. For example, a two-point penalty will be deducted for each routine exceeding the predetermined number of Elements assigned to the particular event and category.

  • So, how is a routine score calculated?

Now, each routine score will be calculated as such:

Routine Score = (Elements Score) + (Artistic Impression Score) – (Other Penalties)

–> Elements Score = (EL1DD*Ex + EL2DD*Ex + EL3DD*Ex…. + ELnDD*Ex) – (Synchronization Errors) – (Other Penalties)

As mentioned, five judges will award one execution score to each Element. The highest and lowest scores will be dropped, and the remaining three will be averaged. That averaged score will then be multiplied by the Element’s Degree of Difficulty. And so on for every Element. The synchronization errors from the Technical Controllers will then be deducted, as well as other penalties.

–> Artistic Impression Score = (Choreography/Musicality Score) + (Performance Score) + (Transitions Score) – (Other Penalties)

Similarly, the highest and lowest scores for each of the three categories will be dropped, and the remaining three averaged.

Factoring may be applied to the Choreography/Musicality score to ensure balance between Elements and Artistic Impression Score.

With the DD coming into play, this means that artistic swimming is moving into a more open-ended scoring system, and the scores will not be capped at 100 points anymore.

TECHNICAL ROUTINES & NEW ELEMENTS

As expected, the five required technical elements for each technical event (solo, duet, mixed duet, and team) are changing. They are detailed here.

There were however further and new changes to the technical events overall.  First of all, the required elements can now be performed in any order. Second of all, each technical element now has two possible variations: A or B,  A being the harder one.

This means the coaches and athletes can decide and strategize which to compete: take risks and go for the A variation with the higher DD? Or “play it safe” by going for B, with a lower DD, but with higher chances of securing a great execution score?

It is of course possible to go from B to A, or vice versa, from one competition to the next, or between preliminaries and finals at the same meet. Either way, both the order and the DD of the selected element must appear on the Coach Card before each event.

However, if for example a soloist had declared doing the element 2A but ends up doing 2B, she or he will receive a zero, as it will not match what is on the Coach Card.

Moreover, juniors and seniors will now have the same elements moving forward. 

Finally and as seen above, each technical routine also has a set number of Elements in addition to the five required technical elements. For example, the technical solo must feature the five technical elements plus two additional free hybrids. In the technical team, we will have the five technical elements, one acrobatic, and three free hybrids of which one must be a cadence action.

FIGURES

As was already the case, only the 12 and Under and Youth age groups will compete in figures internationally. 

Besides the changes in the figures themselves — which you can find detailed here —, the main changes are in the Youth category. A Youth athlete now will only have to compete two figures, but won’t exactly know which ones until virtually the day of.

There are no more compulsory and optional figure groups. The figures have been split into three sections of two groups each for a total of 12 figures.

A draw will be made up to 72 hours ahead of the figure session to determine which section (A, B or C) is selected for that competition. Then before the start of the figures event, the athlete’s order of appearance will be randomly drawn (as usual), and will separate the athletes into two groups. Then, a figure group from that section will be randomly assigned to each athlete group.

For example, let’s imagine we have a competition with 121 swimmers, and Section B was drawn. 61 competitors will do the Group 4 figures, while the other 60 will do the figures of Group 3.

It is thus possible for athletes on the same team to do different figures at the same competition. However, the two groups in each section have figures with matching degrees of difficulty, so nobody will be at a disadvantage.

The 12 and Under age group will continue to compete four figures, with the two compulsory ones and one group of two optional figures drawn up to 72 hours before the session.

The judging of the figures also remains the same, ranging from 0-10 using 1/10th points.

 

ACROBATIC ROUTINE & FREE COMBINATION

The highlight event is renamed the Acrobatic Routine, and it will naturally be judged differently. This event will only be done in the junior and senior age groups.

The difficulty score of this routine will only be based on acrobatics. In general, acrobatics have been split into four main groups: Airborne, Balance, Combined, Platform. For the Acrobatic Routine, a total of seven acrobatics are allowed, and at least one from each of these groups must be featured. Teams are free to do any hybrids, but these will not count towards the difficulty score. 

The free combination event will not be part of the programme at the senior and junior levels anymore. It does however stay on for the Youth and 12 and Under categories.

 

MEN’S SOLOS & MEN IN TEAM EVENTS

Male technical and free solos will officially be part of the competition programme at all FINA events, including the World Championships. In addition, a maximum of two male competitors can now be entered in team, free combination, and acrobatic routines. 

The men’s solos were already added to the programme this summer at the World Junior and World Youth Championships. Spain’s Dennis Gonzalez became a two-time World Junior Champion, while France’s Lucas Valliccioni won the World Youth title. Similarly, a handful of young men competed in the free combination and/or highlight routines at both of these events.

Men were already allowed in all routines at LEN events, and men solos were on the programme across all age groups in European competitions this past season.

 

TIME LIMITS

All times for the free routines have been shortened, while the time of the Acrobatic Routine, formerly Highlight, has been increased by 30 seconds.

Times for the Senior and Junior age groups:

    • Technical Solo: 2:00 min (no changes)
    • Free Solo: 2:30 min → 2:15 min
    • Technical Duet & Mixed Duet: 2:20 min (no changes)
    • Free Duet & Mixed Duet: 3:00 min → 2:45 min
    • Technical Team: 2:50 min (no changes)
    • Free Team: 4:00 min → 3:30 min 
    • Acrobatic Routine: 2:30 min → 3:00 min

Times for the Youth age group, which are now the same as the 12 and Under category:

    • Solo: 2:15 min → 2:00 min
    • Duet & Mixed Duet: 2:45 min → 2:30 min
    • Team: 3:30 min → 3:00 min 
    • Free Combination: 3:30 min → 3:00 min

Additionally, there is now an allowance of five seconds less or plus allotted time for all routines. This used to be 15 seconds.

The walk-on and deckwork time isn’t changing for the mixed duet and team events, and should not exceed 30 seconds. The deck movement, the time between the blow of the whistle and the dive in, is also still of 10 seconds.

For the solo and duet events, the walk-on now should not exceed 20 seconds.

 

AGE GROUPS

The age limits for the age groups are expanding, and are slightly different between men and women.

For Youth women, the category remains between 13 and 15 years old. In Youth men, it is now between 13 and 16 years old.

For Junior women, the age grouping is between 15 and 19 years old. For Junior men, the category now goes from 15 to 20 years old.

To be able to compete in the senior category, an athlete must still turn 15 in the calendar year. So it remains possible to see 14-year-olds compete at a senior World Championships or an Olympic Games as long as they turn 15 within the year.

 

DRAW PROCEDURE & WORLD RANKINGS

The draw procedure will now be based on a new system of World Rankings. At FINA Events, draws will be divided into two parts: those competitors with World Rankings, and those without. 

The non-ranked competitors will swim first in a random order, before the lowest group of ranked competitors. The ranked competitors will then be divided into draw groups of six working from highest ranked to lowest ranked. The six competitors in each grouping will be allotted their start number by random draw within their group. The groups will then swim in reverse order, meaning the highest ranked athlete group will swim last. 

For example, let’s imagine an event with 30 total technical duets, including 18 ranked and 12 non-ranked. The event will start with the 12 non-ranked duets, swimming between starts 1-12 in random order. Then, the 18 ranked pairs will have a start order ranging from 13-30 based on the grouping described above, with the highest ranked pairs benefitting from the later start numbers.

These World Rankings will cover a two-year period, starting on September 1, 2022 all the way through August 31, 2024. Each solos (women or men), duets, mixed duets, and teams will be awarded points based on their placement at the World Series or the World Championships (all age groups), and each competition weighing differently.

For solo, duet, and mixed duet athletes, the points belong to the athletes or the partnerships themselves. This means that if a country has accumulated World Rankings points with one woman soloist throughout the year but decides to have a different one compete at Worlds, she will not benefit from these points and the resulting start order.

Similarly, a new partnership in duet or mixed starts with zero points, and there is no transfer of points from the previous pair. Essentially, the more competitions each national federation attends (i.e. is financially able to), the better its World Ranking and thus the later its draw at the World Championships or any FINA event.

Further clarification, along with potential adjustments, on the World Ranking system should come out in the upcoming weeks.

 

QUALIFICATION TO FINALS

As a general rule of thumb and across all age groups, the top 12 after preliminaries will qualify to the finals. 

In the Youth and Junior categories and if the number of participants in the preliminaries is above 35, then 14 will be able to qualify to the final. 

As it is already the case, the countries who have placed 1-6 (or 1-7) in the preliminaries will then draw for start numbers 7-12 (or 8-14).

 

All draft documents and appendixes related to this new system are available on FINA’s website.

ARTICLE BY CHRISTINA MARMET

Cover photo: Deepbluemedia

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11 comments

    • The two categories have the same times, but they have different routine requirements. The number of set Elements for the 13-15s per routine is higher (except in team where both have to do 9). Overall, the 13-15 athletes will have a “busier”, and likely more difficult, routine than the U12s in the same allocated time.

    • Unfortunately, there isn’t much information out yet for masters. The rules are up to the FINA Masters Committee. So hopefully we will know more after the Congress.

  1. Bonjour Christina,
    Que pensez-vous de la décision des arbitres de ne pas faire de podiums séparés hommes / femmes pour les solos, lors du Championnat LEN des Maitres à Rome, cet été?
    Les arbitres arguent que le règlement LEN des maitres qui ne le permet pas, mais sont incapables de me citer l’article du règlement en question.

    Lorsque je leur cite ceci : “EUROPEAN MASTERS (len.eu) updated 2021 – MA-A.S. 1.1 : Solo, Duet, Mixed Duet and Team, each with Technical Routine & Free Routine, and Free Combination for men and women. Teams shall consist of a minimum of four (4) and a maximum of eight (8) members. Free Combinations shall consist of a minimum of four (4) and a maximum of ten (10) members. ” plus personne ne répond, alors que c’est la preuve qu’il doit y avoir podiums séparés.

    Et vous qu’en pensez-vous?
    cordialement, Christian

    • Bonjour Christian,

      Pour être honnête, je n’ai pas puis suivre les championnats d’Europe maîtres aussi intensément que je l’aurais voulu, ayant repris mon travail “normal” après deux semaines de travail à Rome pour les élites. Je n’étais donc pas au courant de cette décision de ne pas faire de podiums séparés hommes et femmes pour les solos. Je vais me renseigner sur la question. Merci de me l’avoir fait savoir.
      Christina

      • Bonjour Christina, merci pour votre réponse. C’est une décision qui n’est pas expliquée. Mais selon la Juge-Arbitre Jana Vidlarova, c’est écrit dans les règlements LEN, mais elle n’a jamais été capable de m’indiquer laquelle des règles s’applique…
        J’aimerais vous envoyer copie des échanges de courriels entre Jana et moi; Tous les détails de ma réclamation y sont et les bases de mon argumentation… Puis-je vous les faire parvenir? Ou les publier ici ?

  2. Hello !
    Did you get the question I sent you last night about LEN’s Masters Championship in Rome, this august ??
    I’d love to hear your appreciation of the situation…
    It doesn’t need to be a public discussion, of course.
    Yours truly
    Christian, master swimmer at
    Paris Aquatique

  3. Is hybrid in tech routine for example when you finish an element then do for additional split and swim out to breath?

    • No, that would be nothing. You could still do it but that wouldn’t be considered at all in the scoring process in terms of DD. It could add artistic impression.

  4. In hybrid sheet in general principles b) is this well written? As I understand it first part says the repeated movement can be noted twice but then it’s written it can be noted only once. Are we reading it right?

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