Sun, May 19, 2019 - Page 11 News List

Men push boundaries in synchronized swimming

AFP, STOCKHOLM

Members of the Stockholm Simkonst Herr (“Stockholm Men’s Artistic Swimming”) team train on Wednesday in Stockholm.

Photo: AFP

Balding, paunchy and unshaven, this group of Stockholm friends in their 40s are making waves by pioneering a men’s synchronized swimming team, challenging stereotypes one aquatic pirouette at a time.

One evening earlier this month, these 18 amateur swimmers ran through their formations and underwater acrobatics under the watchful eye of their coach, Claudia Arasa.

They are tweaking their choreography before heading to Ibiza, where they are to compete in the Men’s Cup from Friday to Sunday.

The team members have diverse backgrounds, comprising a doctor, a tramway driver, a movie director and a teacher, among others.

However, what unites Anders, Mika, Elric and the others is their age — members must be over 40 — and physique. They must not be too well-trained; in fact, some are smokers and most have a hint of a belly, and are graying or balding.

Perhaps most importantly, they must have a good sense of diplomacy.

The latter is necessary for this motley crew to come together in the name of collective artistry.

“It’s like a rock band, we’re a group, with all the friction and all the energy that comes with being very close together,” said Sam Victorin, a member who cofounded Stockholm Simkonst Herr (“Stockholm Art Swim Gents”) in 2003.

The team does not compete in major international competitions — their philosophy is to “have fun, but we try to do it with a serious approach,” Victorin said.

“Some people thought when we started that we were trying to ridicule the sport, but it was the opposite,” he added.

Elric Sauze, a Frenchman who has lived in Sweden for seven years, joined the team because of his love of dance and swimming.

The design gallery curator from Brittany is not bothered by the stereotypes associated with the traditionally feminine, yet demanding discipline, known for its sparkly ballerina outfits.

“There is no sport for gay people, nor for straight people,” he said.

Their coach, a former artistic swimmer from Barcelona, agrees.

“From the sport point of view they’re very strong, but since they’re grown-ups they lack a bit of flexibility,” Arasa said.

However, they are very good at “holding their breath for a long time” — essential for the sport’s underwater formations, she added.

“The main challenge I have with them is that they love to talk, so I really have to make them pay attention to me,” said Arasa, who is a doctoral student in immunology when she is not coaching.

The team has been the subject of several documentaries and inspired hit movies, including the French comedy Sink or Swim and Britain’s Swimming With Men.

The swimmers hope that synchronized swimming — officially renamed artistic swimming in 2017 — would one day be open to men at the Olympic Games, as it is at the European and World Championships.

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