Hosting the 2018 FINA Artistic Swimming World Series – Canada Open in Surrey, BC provided an opportunity for a reunion of many women who have dedicated so much time to both competing in the sport and moving it forward internationally.
Starting with a special VIP reception at the Surrey Arts Centre, and continuing through the three days of competition, it was time for reconnecting, reminiscing and recollecting cherished memories of the sport. As Michelle Caulkins said at the time, “Wow! We have a powerful history, largely untapped yet I felt its energy all weekend.”
Since it was an international event, Synchro Canada took the opportunity to highlight the work of two Canadian women who were true pioneers at the national and international level of the sport, Margaret (Marg) MacLennan and Sandra (Sandy) Roberts. They were featured in the event souvenir program and also spent time being interviewed for more of their memories.
Margaret (Marg) MacLennan
Sitting watching the team highlight routine with Vancouver’s Margaret MacLennan, it was easy to see her love for the sport was as strong as ever. She nearly leapt off her seat as the flyer launched into the air, and her appreciation for the intricacies of the movements was very evident.
Marg began her involvement in synchronized swimming (now called Artistic Swimming) as a competitor with the Vancouver Amateur Swim Club and the Vancouver Synchronized Swim Clubs in the 1960s and finished 2nd in duet at the Canadian National Synchronized Championships. She went on to make her mark on the sport with her involvement first as a coach, as an official and then serving on the boards of Synchro Canada and the Aquatic Federation of Canada.
A former student, Michelle Caulkins appreciated her impact by saying “we all benefited (from her legacy) and grew from little minnows to big fish in our world of water. Marg opened a space and created that chance for Helen (Vanderburg) and I to emerge onto the world scene with Debbie (Muir) as our coach. It was a time and place marked by her strength of character and resolve.”
Marg cites her mother Donalda Smith, aka “Speedo,” as a true builder in the sport, and one of her inspirations to get involved internationally. From just being asked to sit by the pool and keep an eye on the alignment of her daughter’s synchro duet, Donalda went on to coach all over the world and then served on the technical committee of FINA (1972–84). She played an instrumental role in getting synchronized swimming into the Olympic Games. According to Marg, “I don’t think people paid much attention to ‘the little old lady’ but I’m quite convinced my mom was probably one of the major reasons we got in (to the Olympics) but she never took any credit for it.” Donalda went on to judge at the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles, where synchronized swimming made its debut.
Marg, a long-time judge and volunteer in BC Synchro, became involved in the sport at the International level as a member of the formerly named FINA TSSC (Technical Synchronized Swimming Committee), from 1984 to 1988. Margaret lobbied long and strong with her cohorts to bring Synchronized Swimming to the world stage as part of the Olympic Games. She served as the Technical Delegate Synchro at the 1996 Olympic Sumer Games in Atlanta, Georgia and officiated at the 1984, 1988, and 1992 Games as well.
Seeing the need to have a synchro presence on the FINA Bureau, Margaret campaigned to be elected onto the Bureau and was elected as its first female member in 1988 and served until 1996. With a twinkle in her eye, she shared some anecdotes of what it was like to be surrounded by the male members of FINA at meetings. When the group photo was taken – she was originally shooed off to be with the Bureau wives – but stood her ground and appeared in the proper photo, deliberately wearing a skirt to break up the all-male image! And at the first meeting, she recalls the opening remarks were grudgingly changed from ‘Gentlemen’ to a throat-clearing ‘Lady and Gentlemen’!
It was her passion and her valuable skills that not only earned her a seat on the Bureau but allowed her to influence the advancement of FINA rules for synchronized swimming. Her political astuteness and diplomacy elevated the credibility and interest of synchronized swimming in a field of male-dominated aquatic sports. She worked tirelessly and consistently with the Bureau during her tenure and was well respected by her peers.
It didn’t take a moment for Marg to cite her proudest accomplishment. “Getting into the Olympics” was her quick response. That one achievement helped to elevate the sport, draw more coverage and help it grow, and the sport will be forever grateful to the mother/daughter duo of Donalda Smith and Marg MacLennan who helped make it happen!
Sandra (Sandy) Roberts
Sitting down with Sandra (Sandy) Roberts during a break in the action at the 2018 FINA Artistic Swimming World Series – Canada Open in Surrey, BC, she couldn’t quite recall exactly how she got started in the sport. Her Grandmother was a pioneer in synchronized swimming in Sandy’s home province of Saskatchewan, and Sandy’s not quite sure if she was initially interested or if she was given the ‘thou shalt’ option to get into the pool and try it! Regardless of the initial reason, she quickly came to love the sport with a passion.
From her earliest days as a competitor with the Regina YWCA Synchronettes in the mid-1950s to serving as a member of the FINA Technical Synchronized Swimming Committee, her dedication and involvement stretch over six decades.
Beginning in Saskatchewan in 1958 as a coach, Sandy worked tirelessly on behalf of Synchronized Swimming and contributed to the local, national and international scenes. While coaching at the local level for 15 years, she also served on the board of Synchro Saskatchewan and was President from 1977 – 1980. At the national level, she gave leadership to the National Team Management Committee, which later became the High Performance Management Team. and the International Committee. She also served on the Coaching Development Committee which saw the initial development of the Certification Program in the mid-1970s.
She joined the International scene in 1978 as a judge, eventually earning an ‘A’ rating. By the time she retired in 2004, she had participated in 5 Olympics; 10 World Championships and more than 70 international events.
Sandy became a member of the Technical Synchronized Swimming Committee (TSSC) of ASUA – the Amateur Swimming Union of the Americas in 1987, before moving onto the FINA TSSC in 1988 including eight years as Secretary. She worked long and hard to train judges from all over the world, standardizing the training and evaluation of international judges, and conducting and/or presenting papers at international seminars in 16 countries.
Sandy has a long list of awards and honours as a coach, official and board member. She was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame as a Builder in 1992 and was named the Coaching Association of Canada – Fox 40 Female Official of Year in 2001. But despite all these accolades, she is most proud of her work to develop manuals and standardize judges training and evaluation internationally.
Mary Ann Reeves, who served with Sandy on the National Team and International Committees, and who is also a historic leader in the sport as the founder of the Calgary Aquabelles along with Olympic coach Debbie Muir, remembered: “Sandy always offered her comments unfiltered and straight to the point! Whether it was as domestic chair of the coaching committee in the 70’s, or as a member of the (FINA) TSSC, Sandy was honest and forthright about what she did and what she said. Sometimes her comments stung, but they were always something we or anyone else needed to hear! Even in her international roles as Secretary of the TSSC, Sandy continued to offer straight-forward advice to influence progress in synchro worldwide, for the better.”
Sandy’s dedication to the sport saw her putting in long, long hours and travelling as much as three months away from home in a year, all in a voluntary capacity. She advises anyone who wants to get as involved as she was to “be prepared to commit your life,” and adding that “you have to have the passion and the time.”
Having stepped away from synchronized swimming for 13 years, she enjoyed seeing the evolution of the sport at the event in Surrey and appreciated the high speed and strength of today’s athletes. She particularly enjoyed the Japanese Gold medalist’s solo routines, and the creativity of the Ukrainian team, particularly in its use of the music in the combo routine.
Sandy certainly played a significant role in seeing the sport evolve and develop, and is to be congratulated for her long-standing contribution to Synchronized Swimming in Canada and worldwide.