Free combination routines (also referred to as “combo”) are performed by eight to 10 swimmers. A free combination is like its name indicates, a combination of all the other events: solos, duets, trios, and team segments. All done within the same routine.
There is no technical event for the free combination. This routine allows each team to highlight their strength and to create new and exciting patterns or lifts. With 10 people in the waters, it is easier to get creative, to have higher and bigger lifts, and to really tell a story.
Swimmers not involved in a particular part of the routine usually ‘wait’ along the side, although internationally we now see swimmers in continuous motion on the side even if they are not the ones highlighted in that specific part.
The sport has known fantastic free combination routines over the last few years. Coaches tend to take more risks artistically with these routines, and many have specific themes, to the great pleasures of us fans.
Some memorable routines include Greece’s 2008 on mermaids, China’s 2011 on “Alice in Wonderland,”, France’s 2013 on the history of film with very exciting swimsuits, USA’s 2006 with Cirque du Soleil inspiration, or Spain’s 2009 on Stairway to Heaven. The latter ended up going viral a few years later and currently counts over 12 million views on one video on YouTube.
Here is China’s free combination from 2011 World Championships with the theme of Alice in Wonderland. See if you can spot all the main characters!