FINA Proposes Radical Overhaul to Artistic Swimming (Synchro) Scoring System

FINA has announced a dramatic change to the scoring system that governs artistic swimming (formerly known as synchronized swimming).

A draft rulebook released last week during the World Aquatics Championships in Budapest outlined a system that brings the sport more in-line with other artistic, routine-based sports like gymnastics and figure skating, which have also implemented major changes in scoring systems over the last decade.

The Change

Under current scoring rules, there are 15 judges who score three components of the routine, which each of those three components being worth different percentages of the final score.

Current distribution:

  • 30% Execution score – evaluating execution, control, power, accuracy in each position, leg extension, etc.
  • 40% Artistic impression score – variety of routine, creativity in the choreography, music interpretation, overall impression and presentation.
  • 30% Difficulty score – how hard are the elements included in the competition, including among of time underwater, proximity of athletes, difficulty of transitions, speed of hybrids, etc.

New Distribution:

Under the new plan, there will be 10 judges shared across only execution and artistic impression scores. Similarly to what has been done in figure skating, a difficulty score is instead calculated prior to the routine.

  • 50% Artistic impression score (with one score each for choreography and musicality, performance, and transitions)
  • 50% Elements score (execution of each element)
  • Difficulty Technical Controllers check the predeclared difficulty.

Besides making judging easier and more predictable, this will allow the sport to be presented more cleanly to television audiences, with expectations of difficulty and the ability to give scoring indicators in real time. In figure skating, this is presented via a red box, yellow box, or green box on television screens, indicating if a skater has successfully performed a technical element or not. That gives viewers some idea of what has been happening.

The potential is bringing more appeal to the sport for wider audiences who otherwise might not understand that certain hybrids are harder than others.

The new scoring system will continue to evaluate on a 1-10 scale in quarter-point increments.

The new system will also allow coaches to change routines between preliminary and final rounds, allowing coaches to add or remove difficulty, so long as they declare their intentions. FINA hopes that this will make the outcomes less predictable.

This will also change the overall scale – there will no longer be a maximum composite score of 100

Reactions

The changes received positive feedback via those coaches included in FINA’s press release about them.

“If you ask a judge now, ‘What’s the difference between an 8.3 and an 8.4?’ it’s difficult to explain,” said Ana Montero, a member of the FINA Innovation Committee that developed the system. In the future, she said, “when you come to a competition, you will be able to understand why this was better than that.”

“From now on, it’s gonna be fair,” said US head coach Andrea Fuentes, who won four Olympic medals for Spain as an athlete. “Every movement will have a value. The coach will have to think a lot about what is useful and what is not, without killing the creativity. I’m very excited because now I can use strategy.”

“You really have to know your athletes and measure well their capability,” added Canada’s head coach Gabor Szauder, who looks forward to the change.

The coaches hoped that this could push the limits of the sport, as has been seen in other similarly-judged competitions, with athletes pushing to go higher, harder, and faster in competition.

Federations still have to vote on the changes at the artistic swimming technical congress on October 3 but, Schott said, “None of this is a surprise. We’ve tried to be globally consultive throughout the process.

The system has already undergone five years of research and development involving experts in mathematics, biomechanics, and sports science, as well as athletes, coaches, judges, and more.

“We’ve tried to be very inclusive throughout the process,” said Schott, who’s had the vision to change the scoring since she became the chairwoman in 2017.

“Will we roll it out perfectly? Probably not,” Schott said. But we’re allowing ourselves to adjust as we go. We also talked to figure skating and gymnastics federations EXTENSIVELY. Their advice to us is: you’ll make mistakes. Just make sure in your rules, you’re allowed to adjust.

“And that’s what we’ve done.”

Russia has recently dominated synchronized swimming events, which includes winning every Olympic gold medal in the discipline dating back to 2000. With Russia banned from competition, the gold medals were divided between China (4), Japan (2), Italy (2), and Ukraine (2), the latter of which is the country that was invaded by Russia, leading to the country’s expulsion from the championship.

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Riko
1 month ago

Certainly about time that some measure of reliable scoring was attempted although I agree with Golden Gate that the sport is basically irrelevant and nothing will give it the profile it had decades ago.

#AthleteLivesMatter
1 month ago

Interesting. Seems like most people are supportive of it.

“From now on, it’s gonna be fair,” said US head coach Andrea Fuentes, who won four Olympic medals for Spain as an athlete. “Every movement will have a value. The coach will have to think a lot about what is useful and what is not, without killing the creativity. I’m very excited because now I can use strategy.”

Since Andrea Fuentes thinks this will increase fairness, hopefully the USA will improve. So I am supportive of this idea since our coach thinks it will help our country. Let’s go USA!

#AthleteLivesMatter

Golden Gate
1 month ago

This is a dying sport without much hope IMO. Scoring changes make sense, but it says for ‘wider audiences’ and easier for TV viewership. Audiences for synchro are shrinking drastically, and it has nothing to do with scoring. What seems to be missing within the sport has more to do with limited opportunity. There are only 3-4 universities that support synchro at an advanced level through scholarships, and of those, only 2 schools are competitive (Ohio State and Stanford). Imagine going into the season having a 50/50 chance at a ‘national title.’ The sport is a joke in the USA and at the collegiate level, and worldwide…it seems as though very few countries truly invest in ‘opportunities’ for young people… Read more »

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Braden Keith

Braden Keith is the Editor-in-Chief and a co-founder/co-owner of SwimSwam.com. He first got his feet wet by building The Swimmers' Circle beginning in January 2010, and now comes to SwimSwam to use that experience and help build a new leader in the sport of swimming. Aside from his life on the InterWet, …

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