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Last Updated: Friday, 4 June, 2004, 15:00 GMT 16:00 UK
Beginner's guide to synchronised swimming
Synchronized swimmers often train six hours a day
Perfect harmony in the pool
Some observers suggest synchronised swimming has no right to be an Olympic sport as it is nothing more than ballet in water.

But you try doing the splits upside down with your head underwater and all the while keeping a smile on your face.

It has glamour and glitz, but as well as precision in their performance, participants face a real physical challenge.

A swimmer needs to practice for anything up to nine hours a day, six days a week, particularly in the build-up to a major event, and they do not come bigger than the Olympics.

Since being invited to the Games in 1984, the sport has undergone changes in format, and from consisting of solo and duet performances in Los Angeles, Athens will see medals on offer in the team and duet disciplines.

Eight teams contest the team event and 24 pairs compete in the duet. The latter perform in a preliminary competition to narrow the field to 12.

The competition takes place in a three-metre deep pool that measures 30m by 20m and points are deducted if performers touch the bottom or edge.

Each team consists of eight swimmers, while the duet competition, as the name suggests, features just two swimmers.

As a large part of each routine is spent underwater, speakers are placed beneath the surface so the music can be heard at all times, though it is muffled
The events are split into two routines - technical and free.

The technical aspect lasts two minutes 50 seconds (2:20 for duets) and teams have to complete set moves in a specific order.

For the free programme, which lasts five minutes (four minutes for duets), performers create their own routines and can include up to 10 seconds of "deck work" on the poolside, part of the performance that is not judged but can help make a good impression.

A panel of 10 judges awards points in both the technical and free programmes for technical merit and artistic impression.

The maximum mark is 10 points and the judges award scores in one-tenth of a point increments.

Those judging technical merit look for how synchronised the swimmers are, their movement and position in the water, and the difficulty of what they are attempting to do.

Those judging artistic impression look for creativity and flair in the routine and, rather than breaking down performance as the technical judges do, they adjudicate on the overall feel.

The highest and lowest of the scores within each group of five judges are discarded, with the remaining three being averaged out.

These are then multiplied to garner a final mark. The technical score is multiplied by six and the artistic merit by four.

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