44-Year-Old Bill May Becomes First American Man to Win Artistic Team Medal at Worlds


The U.S. artistic swimming team took the silver medal behind China in the acrobatic routine on Monday, marking the first American medal in an artistic swimming team event at the World Championships since 2007.


  • GOLD: People’s Republic of China – 238.0033
  • SILVER: USA – 232.4033
  • BRONZE: Japan – 220.5867

In the process, 44-year-old Bill May became the first American man to capture a team artistic swimming medal at Worlds. The 2023 edition in Fukuoka, Japan, is the first Worlds where men are allowed to compete, a year before they are introduced to Olympic team events next summer in Paris.

“This is an incredible step forward for our sport,” May said. “It feels incredible. This team works harder than anyone I’ve ever met in my life — they are so inspiring. It’s a brand new event and so much hard work goes into it, so to come out here and show the world what the USA can do, it’s really something, and we’re only going to step it up from here.”

Artistic swimming has been an Olympic sport since 1984 (known back then as synchronized swimming) and men have been allowed to compete in non-team events at Worlds since 2015, when May became the first ever male world champion in the inaugural mixed duet technical event in Kazan, Russia.

May picked up multiple mixed duet medals at Worlds in both 2015 and 2017, but he retired after this third Worlds in 2019 at 40 years old. He was coaching at the Santa Clara Aquamaids in California when he successfully lobbied World Aquatics to include men in team events this past December, sparking his comeback attempt. But May only had a few months to prepare for trials in April, and according to Inside Synchro, the last time he participated in a team event was more than two decades ago at the 2002 U.S. Championships.

“It was an amazing accomplishment to win medals in the mixed duet category, and to now win a medal in the acro team event is a feeling I can’t even describe — it’s beyond words,” said May, who worked for 17 years at Cirque du Soleil doing water-themed shows. “I thought my competitive career was finished, but to have another opportunity to fulfill a dream is surreal.”

May was one of five men making the Worlds team debuts along with Germany’s Frithjof Seidel, Japan’s Sato Yotaro, China’s Shi Haoyu, and Kazakhstan’s Artur Maidanov.

“I think it’s a huge opportunity for the sport to grow and attract more men,” May said. “By keeping men out you’re limiting the sport. By including men you’re going to see an upshift in the popularity and the numbers.”

“There has always been that misconception that it’s a female-only sport, or that it’s for wimps, or that it’s not a difficult sport,” he added. “Anyone that has anything negative to say about the sport — boy, female, anyone. Just try it and you’ll know it’s the most difficult sport in the world.”

In other artistic swimming action from this past weekend, Japan earned gold medals in the women’s duet and solo technical events in front of the home crowd.

On Sunday, 24-year-old Mashiro Yasunaga and 15-year-old Moe Higa bounced back from a 12-place showing in prelims to win gold about 10 points ahead of runner-up Italy (Linda Cerruti and Lucrezia Ruggiero). Spain (Alisa Ozhogina Ozhogin and Iris Tio Casas) snagged bronze about 16 points behind Japan.


  • GOLD: Higa Moe/Yasunaga Mashiro (Japan) – 273.9500
  • SILVER: Linda Cerruti/Lucrezia Ruggiero (Italy) – 263.0334
  • BRONZE: Alisa Ozhogina Ozhogin/Iris Tio Casas (Spain) – 257.8368

Japan hadn’t won gold in this event in 22 years, since Miya Tachibana and Miho Takeda topped the podium at the 2001 Championships also held in Fukuoka.

On Saturday, Japan’s Inui Yukiko defended her world title in the women’s solo technical event with just over 276 points, about 12 ahead of runner-up Vasiliki Alexandri of Austria (264.4). Tio Casas, Spain’s bronze medalist in the women’s duet technical, took bronze about 22 points behind Yukiko.

“I was able to get a gold medal in front of this audience, which supports me daily, and I am very happy about that,” Yukiko said. “In 2001, I saw my predecessors get a gold medal here when there were the World Championships in Fukuoka. I am glad I could do the same for the team when my turn came.”


  • GOLD: Inui Yukiko (Japan) – 276.5717
  • SILVER: Vasiliki Alexandri (Austria) – 264.4200
  • BRONZE: Iris Tio Casas (Spain) – 254.2100

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Paul Windrath
4 months ago

Bill May showed up at a 2 mile Open water race in Lake Placid when I was helping. So smooth. Watched him in Vegas in Cirque de Solei “O” in 2018.

My wife is a synchro swimmer and we wanted to do duets together before Masters allowed men. Always made me angry.

Way to go Bill!

4 months ago

I swam with Bill in Las Vegas for just a few practices and the guy is insanely fast and athletic. I understood that he might be training for open water racing! I never knew he did this. It is awesome!

Reply to  James
4 months ago

I’ve watched Bill swim for years and as a competitive swimmer and coach I had the same biases he alludes to in that I didn’t really see the conditioning side of the sport past the artistic side. Well watching him kick everyone’s butt in practice day after day opened my eyes. Great athlete, great trainer and a great person.

Becky Cleavenger
Reply to  James
4 months ago

I saw him win the Lake Mead Slam the Dam 10k several years ago. He is a seriously good athlete.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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