Many people don’t realize the incredible time and effort that volunteers put into local, provincial, national and international sport. Without the support of so many who give their time to plan and host events, or serve as officials and board members, our young athletes would not realize the benefits of physical activity and sport. Some people who do go on to volunteer at the international level – including our own Lisa Schott – make volunteering a full-time job!  Huge thanks to Lisa and to everyone who volunteers their time, energy and talent to making Canada Artistic Swimming such a special place!

Artistic Swimming – a Vision for the Future

It’s 2028.  At the Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles, California, artistic swimming teams from around the world are competing in the exciting acrobatic team routine, which includes both female and male competitors, using a completely revamped judging system. Next up, the mixed duet event!

That’s the vision that Lisa Schott has for artistic swimming. And the building blocks to make that vision a reality are all starting to come together.

As the Chair of FINA’s Artistic Swimming Technical Committee since 2017, Lisa has seen the sport grow and develop worldwide, despite the restrictions of the past two years. In fact, she’s seen innovation in the sport as a direct result of the creative alternatives that evolved during the pandemic from coaches, athletes and event organizers.

Although exposed to the sport as a youngster by her athletic aunt, Lisa preferred ski racing over artistic swimming. When her daughter started the sport, Lisa became involved with the Calgary Aquabelles Club, and then nationally with Synchro Canada (now Canada Artistic Swimming). She served as President there, and then moved into the presidency of Aquatics Canada, which includes Diving Canada, Swimming Canada, Water Polo Canada and Canada Artistic Swimming. It represents Canada to FINA, the international organization with 209 members from around the world.

Being involved on the FINA Technical Committee since 2013 has given her the opportunity to work on measures to both modernize and improve the sport. Changing the name from Synchronized Swimming to Artistic Swimming was a better reflection of the athleticism, power and dynamism of the discipline and one that Schott embraced as a significant step forward.

The creation of the FINA Artistic Swimming World Series, which debuted in 2017, provided much more opportunity for competition, which for many years had only included national open competitions, the world championships and every four years, the Olympic Games. With prize money and ranking points awarded, FINA then added a ‘Super Final’ to the series in 2019, where season winners were decided in Solo, Duet, Mixed Duet and Teams.

New Judging System in Development

As the sport had developed over the years, it became clear that the judging system was not keeping pace with the reality of what the athletes were performing in the water. “The coaches and athletes were really pushing the boundaries of the sport, and so we knew we needed to give them a better system to work within,” said Lisa when speaking about the need to reform the way the sport was judged and scored. “It came about because of how fast, powerful, athletic and acrobatic the sport has now become.”

As Lisa started into her first term as Chair of the Technical Committee, she brought together an innovation team of nine people from around the world. Sport experts, including judges, athletes, and coaches, worked with mathematicians and technology specialists to begin creating a new system. One of the goals was to use technology to bring greater objectivity to the judging. The innovation team created a catalogue with 300 different movements defined, each with a level of difficulty assigned. Similar to the system used in figure skating, technical control monitors will determine the difficulty of each routine element (called hybrids and acrobatic movements), while judges focus on scoring the execution, artistic impression and synchronization.

As coaches and choreographers design their programs, they can choose the level of difficulty for the routine by the various elements they include. Prior to competing, coaches will submit a difficulty card listing the elements, in the order they will be swum. The system allows strategic decisions to be made, as coaches can decide whether to take a higher risk on a more difficult and higher valued element that might not be executed as well, or to perform a lower risk element, that would rate a higher score as it is more strongly executed. Strategy can also come into play as competitors may decide to add a higher difficulty to a final routine than they swam in the preliminary round.

Seminars to introduce the new system have been held around the world. Feedback has been incorporated, and testing has already begun. Lisa hopes to see it in use as a parallel system at the FINA Junior World Artistic Swimming Championships this summer in Quebec City, and then see it fully implemented in time for the 2024 Olympic Summer Games in Paris. With advances in technology, the system is cloud-based, allowing any federation to access it, something that Lisa felt was critical to allow for world-wide adoption and use.

Virtual Innovations Added

Although the global Covid pandemic shut down in-person competitions, Lisa sees many positive innovations that occurred when events became virtual. “We were the first aquatic sport to go virtual, and kudos to everyone for adapting, pivoting and changing as we did,” Lisa reflected. “There were so many different travel and quarantine restrictions, that it just made sense to develop virtual competitions. And then we learned just how much of an impact that had made on the ability of some athletes to compete.”

When the 1st Junior Pan American Games were held live in Cali, Colombia in November/December of 2021, Lisa reported that many of the mixed duets and duets said ‘I wouldn’t be here today competing if you hadn’t given us that virtual opportunity.’ Having been able to submit videos of their routines to virtual competitions had greatly assisted in their development. As Lisa admits, “while we all love the energy and excitement of a live event, there might continue to be a place for a hybrid event, allowing countries that aren’t able to travel to compete.”

What does the future hold?

Working at the international level has been a rich experience for Lisa Schott. She has learned to understand and appreciate new cultures and new ways of doing things. She’s excited with the innovative leadership of the FINA President, Husain Al Musallam and Executive Director Brent Nowicki. With their support to modernize and improve artistic swimming, she sees many exciting developments ahead.

As travelling becomes easier, FINA has plans for holding events in new locations, including the Middle East, as well as joint competitions alongside diving. Adding gala water shows at the conclusion of artistic swimming events has added both fun and creativity to the sport. With no judging involved, athletes use props, additional makeup and even touch the bottom of the pool to create innovative routines that have wide fan appeal.

Incorporating the highlight routines as a competitive discipline has already started. It was included in the 2021 Junior Pan Am Games, and it has been approved for the 2023 Pan American Games. More men are competing in the highlight and combination routines as the sport evolves, and the number of mixed duets in competitions is growing.

The capacity to grow the sport has never been better according to Lisa. “We have development grants coming out to support federations, and with online mentors and coaches, the sport has so many possibilities. And we have so much untapped potential with social media able to reach new audiences.”

As Lisa gazes into her ‘crystal ball’ for artistic swimming’s future, the possibilities are endless. And she’s excited to see what unfolds for the sport by the 2028 Olympic Games!