First of all, let me say one thing. At the beginning, I was very positive about the new artistic swimming rules. One of the biggest problems of our sport were the predictable rankings. Those were not only bad for the public, but also for us, the athletes. So when a new system was announced, promising an objective way to score the routines that would lead to more unpredictability, I was thrilled and excited.
No big change comes without troubles though. After many competitions in various World Cup legs, and the Fukuoka and Doha World Championships – especially after the women’s solo free final here in Doha -, I think that some of those problems are evident enough and need to be talked about.
I still want to stay positive. The system right now is broken, but it is still more promising than whatever we had before, which was basically nothing. So, here are my two cents about the biggest challenges that our sport needs to face to get back up from the muddy situation it is in right now. And with it, some ideas on how not to see anymore the – I’m sorry for it – ridiculous show we are seeing at these World Championships.
First thing: the entire scoring scale, from 0 to 10, must be used. For me, the biggest problem is the same we had before these new rules: the application of the scoring and evaluation sheets. We have these beautiful charts where all the heights are shown in along with the maximum score they can be associated with. As athletes, we study them and painfully train daily to reach the required standard.
But then, in competition, those are basically ignored by the judges. No 3.5s were given for half-calf verticals. No difference in the scores was seen between 5.5 and 9.5 thrusts. No 4.5s were given to lifts that were at that level on the paper. No deductions were applied when necessary. The scores mostly float between 6.75 and 8.5s, and we athletes are just adapting to the situation, putting more and more R7s in our routine because it’s convenient. And because if we don’t, then we put ourselves out of the competition.
This is a simple problem to solve: just actually apply what the charts say. No one would perform ten R7s in a row down to the knee in every single hybrid if that didn’t mean roughly 80 points in execution. It would not be convenient anymore, and we would start to look for maximum execution again.
The same applies to the Artistic Impression scores. As I said before, we put tons of R7s because it’s convenient. But if the artistic value of doing that was recognized accurately for what it is – around 1.5 and 3.5 -, that would not be so convenient anymore. The poor impact of the artistic impression panel on the results right now is not a consequence of wrong factorization coefficients, but a consequence of how we get scored.
This also would be a simple problem to solve. If we want to, we could just use all the scores from 0 to 10, including the so scary 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s. Just like in diving, where for example it is easy to see 0.5s for evidently missed dives.
Third thing: the basemark system is disrespectful to the athletes’ work. Why in the world an athlete who successfully performed 19 difficulty elements out of 20 should be penalized the same as another one who performed just one movement out of 20?
The basemark system was believed to put a limit to the DD, but that will never work. Because, as soon as the execution scores are not being used from 0 to 10, the DD will always be the only thing that counts.
So, for us, it will always be better to “try and risk” than not to try at all. Basemarks have shown themselves just as a useful way to stress athletes and coaches, and to randomize the rankings by putting a totally-unrelated-to-the-performance-influence on the scores.
This also has a very simple solution: if an athlete misses one movement, it’s okay not to credit them in that movement, but please keep the other 19 untouched. This is a matter of respect: let us be evaluated for what we actually swim. It’s a matter of respect for all of the hours we spend in the water daily to accomplish that.
Fourth thing: tolerance. To not have any degree of tolerance in angles and rotations means just one thing. That everyone, in every single hybrid, in every single routine, has at least one basemark. Degrees of tolerance are applied in other sports because of the structural differences that exist between different human beings: hips rotations, shoulder and back misalignment, head, or appendixes twists from the body axis. To not accomplish a 360° twist for less than 45° is not a mistake: it is a random statistical fluctuation and should not mean that you are completely out of the game and that your entire hybrid is cancelled. Again, here the problem stays within this basemark system, and removing that could make this little non-sense more acceptable.
Fifth and last thing: put a time limit on the technical controllers’ reviews. If an error needs minutes of reviewing to determine whether or not that one hybrid deserves to push an athlete off the podium, it means that that error was not so much of an error.
Basemarks should not exist, but as soon as they exist, they should be applied only for evidently-missed-movements. So evidently missed that they need no review! If a movement needs to be watched again for minutes and minutes, killing the athletes’ and coaches’ mental health in the process, it means that it wasn’t so evidently missed. Evidently.
Those are, to me, the biggest and most urgent problems to solve to save not only our sport, but our physical and mental health.
The new rules promised more opportunities to more people. They aimed to give to everyone objective values to work with, to help the athletes to improve and to get more satisfaction from this unique and unrepeatable experience that is to be part of a national team, competing around the globe.
But right now, they are failing. Very badly. The way we are applying the new rules are making the competitions too random and unfair, producing distorted results, and giving an overall worse experience for athletes and coaches. At least, for the ones who are still trying to swim higher than knee level.
It is time to start a conversation here, now, in Doha, with us athletes and everyone involved.
Cover photo: Giorgio Perottino / Deepbluemedia