Three things all synchronized swimmers need: grace, stamina and gelatin (yes, you read that right).
Just ask Oak Ridge students Spencer Gates, 15, and Corinna Jacobs, 16. The Sacramento Synchronized Swim Team members and coach Kristin Walton came home from the USA Synchronized Swimming Age Group Nationals 2011 held earlier this month in Federal Way, Wash., with an impressive seventh-place team finish.
“Oh, I was so nervous,” Spencer said. “This is like a big shebang kind of thing.”
“It makes it harder to breathe when you’re so nervous,” added Corinna.
The big shebang combined complicated routines, glitzy swim suits and that gelatin, which is used to keep the synchronized swimmers hair in place in and out of the water.
Corinna and Spencer performed three routines — a duo, trio and team routine that puts eight synchronized swimmers in the pool.
“It was so long, swimming all the time,” Spencer said of the four-day event.
“We would get there in the morning and leave at 6 p.m., if we were lucky,” Corinna chimed in.
About 900 synchronized swimmers participated in nationals with 22 teams in Spencer and Corinna’s age group.
The girls, best friends since kindergarten, began synchronized swimming three years ago with encouragement from Corinna’s mom, Wendy Jacobs, who heard about the program from Robin Mizell, a Sacramento Synchronized Swim coach and co-owner of Bark Avenue in Town Center. Mom now jokingly complains about the amount of driving she does to and from swim practice but she talks with pride in her voice.
Getting ready for nationals required more than 13 practice hours each week.
Prior to joining Sacramento Synchronized Swim neither girl had tried synchronized swimming before, but when they jumped in the pool they knew it was a sport they would love.
“I like the team aspect, working as a team,” Spencer said, adding that she also enjoys putting on a show. “It’s really different and kind of hard to explain — a combination of gymnastics, dance and swimming all at the same time.”
“It’s creative,” Corinna added. “There’s a lot more to it than swimming.”
Perfecting a synchronized swimming routine starts with land drilling, synchronizing the upper body routine out of the pool with music. Then they jump in and begin “the eggbeater,” a technique that keeps swimmers’ heads above water. “We’re not allowed to touch the bottom,” Spencer explained.
From there synchronized swimmers learn how to stay poised right-side-up and upside-down. Complicated lifts follow and let’s not forget how much they have to hold their breath. Routines can last several minutes and the competition gets tougher and longer as the synchronized swimmers age.
Another aspect of synchronized swimming is figures — positions performed without music. All swimmers wear a black suit and white cap and individually perform for the judges. The score earned on figures accounts for half of the total score.
Before they spent their days assuming complicated upside-down positions in the pool Corinna and Spencer swam for the El Dorado Hills Taz and did tumbling. They both also swam for the Oak Ridge Swim Team last year and neither has any intention of leaving the pool. With nationals behind them the girls have their sights on improving their routines and figures.
“We’re going to work harder,” Corinna said, “maybe do more complicated routines.”