What’s in a name? A bit of aquatic confusion at the Olympics

Aug 4, 2021, 1:25 PM | Updated: Aug 5, 2021, 3:17 am

TOKYO (AP) — Marathon swimming or open water? Artistic swimming or synchronized?

There’s a bit of aquatic confusion at the Olympics, where two of the disciplines are referred to by conflicting names.

Officially, there’s marathon swimming (that was a pair of 10-kilometer races at Tokyo Bay for men and women) and artistic swimming (that’s the women-only event in which duets and teams perform intricate, synchronized routines accompanied by dramatic music at the Olympic pool).

Try telling that to those who actually compete.

“I call it open water,” said American Haley Anderson, who the record book will show finished sixth in women’s marathon swimming. “I mean, it is the marathon of swimming, so I guess that’s OK. But I still call it open water.”

Russia’s Svetlana Romashina, who set a record with a her sixth gold medal in synchro — uhh, make that artistic swimming — noted the confusion that still prevails four years after world governing body FINA pushed through a name change in her sport.

“Of course, in the world, we call it artistic swimming,” Romashina said after claiming her record-setting sixth career gold medal in the duet competition. “But I can say that in our country, our federation, it is still synchronized swimming.”

The sport formerly known as synchronized swimming has been an official part of the Olympics since the 1984 Los Angeles Games, but it still fights an ongoing battle to be taken seriously.

Martin Short hilariously mocked synchro in a 1980s skit on Saturday Night Live — he wore a life jacket while conceding “I’m not that strong a swimmer” — and many still view the sport as nothing but thick globs of hair gel, elaborate suits and over-the-top deckwork.

In an attempt to bolster the sport’s popularity and expand its appeal to potential sponsors and television partners, FINA changed the name to artistic swimming after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Many athletes objected to the new moniker. They believe it actually demeans the amazing skills of those who perform precise, grueling moves — often while upside down and holding their breath — by rekindling the sport’s origins as water ballet, which was more show than competition.

But the change seems to be gaining grudging acceptance.

Last year, USA Synchro officially changed its name to USA Artistic Swimming. And now we have the first Olympics with artistic swimming, not synchro.

“The name change offers us an opportunity to showcase how the sport has evolved,” USA Artistic Swimming executive director Adam Andrasko said when the organization announced its name change. “Gone are the days of water ballet. This is where true athleticism and artistry meet.”

No matter the name, Romashina said it’s important to showcase what an amazing sport it is.

“It is not a big difference,” she said. “The best thing that we can do is love synchro, love artistic swimming, and try to show people that it’s beautiful.”

Open water remains the go-to name for long-distance swimming races held in oceans, rivers and lakes, but that’s not what it’s called at the Olympics.

Since the 10k was added to the program at the 2008 Beijing Games, it has been known officially as the marathon.

That seems appropriate for what is by far the most grueling swimming race — nearly seven times the distance of the longest pool event, the 1,500-meter freestyle, with random factors such as the weather and marine life often playing a huge factor.

But nearly all the swimmers who competed this week in Tokyo referred to the sport by its best-known name.

“I always call it open water,” said Ashley Twichell of the U.S., who finished seventh in the women’s marathon after leading a good chunk of the race.

“It’s just what I kind of knew,” she added. “When I first entered the sport, I just considered it open water. That’s what I was told it was.”

So, what’s in a name?

In the end, that’s not a major concern to those who compete.

They’re more focused on gold, silver and bronze.

___

Paul Newberry is an Atlanta-based national writer and sports columnist covering his 14th Olympics. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/pnewberry1963 and his work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paulnewberry

___

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Paulo Dybala runs during a training session of Argentina's national soccer team in Doha, Saturday, ...
Associated Press

Paulo Dybala, the Serie A standout not needed by Argentina

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Paulo Dybala posted a photo of himself on Instagram laughing along with his Argentina teammate Lionel Messi, with the accompanying words: “We carry on with a smile! Let’s go.” Argentina might be getting ever closer to a place in the World Cup final but, on a purely personal level, the tournament […]
1 day ago
A fan of Japan picks up garbages at the end of the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Japan...
Associated Press

What’s next for Japan after exit on penalties at World Cup?

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Japan reached the round of 16 for the fourth time at a World Cup. It got knocked out in the round of 16 for the fourth time in a 3-1 loss to Croatia on penalty kicks after a 1-1 draw in regulation and extra time. EXPECTATION VS. PERFORMANCE Coach Hajime Moriyasu […]
1 day ago
FILE - Soccer player Samuel Eto'o watches warmups before an International Champions Cup soccer matc...
Associated Press

Samuel Eto’o filmed in altercation outside World Cup game

DOHA, Qatar (AP) — Cameroon soccer federation president and former star player Samuel Eto’o was filmed apparently kicking a man to the ground in an altercation outside a World Cup stadium early Tuesday. Eto’o had paused to pose for photos with fans near Stadium 974 after Brazil beat South Korea 4-1. Footage circulating on social […]
1 day ago
Vancouver Canucks' Elias Pettersson, back, of Sweden, Curtis Lazar (20), Quinn Hughes, back right, ...
Associated Press

Pettersson scores early in OT, Canucks beat Canadiens 7-6

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Elias Pettersson scored 13 seconds into overtime and the Vancouver Canucks rallied to beat the Montreal Canadiens 7-6 on Monday night. Ilya Mikheyev scored two goals, Andrei Kuzmenko had a goal and an assist, and Conor Garland, Bo Horvat and Jack Studnicka also scored for the Canucks. Pettersson also had […]
1 day ago
Indiana Pacers forward Jalen Smith (25) dunks against Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30...
Associated Press

Rookie Nembhard has 31, leads Pacers past Warriors, 112-104

SAN FRANCSICO (AP) — Rookie Andrew Nembhard outshined the Splash Brothers on their home court. Nembhard scored a season-high 31 points and added 13 assists and eight rebounds to lead the undermanned Indiana Pacers to a 112-104 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Monday night. A second-round draft pick, Nembhard made a key 3-pointer […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

North Dakota State wins 67-62 over Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Boden Skunberg scored 20 points as North Dakota State beat Portland 67-62 on Monday. Skunberg also contributed 10 rebounds for the Bison (2-8). Tajavis Miller shot 7 for 13, including 3 for 7 from beyond the arc to add 17 points. Damari Wheeler-Thomas went 5 of 9 from the field to […]
1 day ago
What’s in a name? A bit of aquatic confusion at the Olympics