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How Synchronized Swimming Routines Are Judged

Watching a synchronized swimming competition for the first time can leave you wondering how exactly the judges can compare one routine to the next. You can see them watching intently from the edge of the pool, but what exactly are they taking into consideration?

There's no getting around it—synchro is judged subjectively. Luckily, there is a structure in place to guide the opinion-making process.

Here's a behind-the-scenes look at judging in synchronized swimming according to FINA regulations.

The Judging Scale

Judges score routines using a numbered scale from zero to 10, broken up in increments of tenths of a point. But what exactly does a 7.2 mean?

Here's the breakdown:

0                     Completely failed

0.1-1.9           Hardly recognizable

2.0- 2.9          Very weak

3.0- 3.9          Weak

4.0- 4.9          Deficient

5.0- 5.9          Satisfactory

6.0- 6.9          Competent

7.0- 7.9          Good

8.0- 8.9          Very good

9.0- 9.4          Excellent

9.5- 9.9          Near perfect

10                   Perfect

Scoring Categories

Judges are assigned specified categories for different events and, in some cases, are given very specific ways to breakdown and record their scores. This is designed to keep them from just giving a less explicable overall opinion score.

Here's a rundown of what judges are expected to evaluate in each event:

Judging Free Routines

Judges on the panel for free routines are divided into two groups, technical merit and artistic impression.

Technical Merit Judges

Technical merit judges consider execution, synchronization and difficulty. Synchronization and difficulty are pretty self-explanatory, but what is execution? Execution is the level of quality and accuracy in arm strokes, hybrids, propulsion techniques and patterns. (If that explanation confuses you more, head to the **iSport glossary**link* for some definitions of those terms.)

The importance of the three technical merit categories varies according to the event. For duet, team, and combo routines, execution is worth 40-percent of the technical merit score, while synchronization and difficulty are both worth 30-percent. For solos, the percentages are 50, 20, and 30, respectively.

After watching the routine (and taking notes throughout), the judge enters a separate score for each category. The computer then weights each one accordingly to calculate a single technical merit score.

Artistic Impression Judges

The artistic impression judges evaluate the choreography, interpretation of the music, and manner of presentation. They are looking for creative choreography with a lot of variety and to see how much area of the pool the routine covers (failing to make it down to one end usually results in a deduction). The manner of presentation is how much the swimmers look like they are in control of their routine, plus the appearance of effortlessness.

For duet and team competitions, choreography is worth 50-percent of the artistic impression score, while synchronization and difficulty are both worth 30-percent. For solos, the percentages are 50, 20, and 30, respectively, and for combo routines the breakdown is 40, 30, and 30.

Like the technical merit judges, artistic impression judges enter a score for each category into the scoring computer to get their artistic impression score.

People involved in synchro recently became more interested in the judging process. In response to this curiosity (and concern), the synchro judging procedures were made much more structured, and therefore, understandable and transparent. (Similar changes were also made in the judging of gymnastics and figure skating.)


Judging Technical Routines

The two main judging categories for technical routines are execution and overall impression.

Execution Judges

Execution judges base 70-percent of their score on the quality of the required elements. The other 30-percent is for all of the rest of the choreography like hybrids, arm strokes and tricks. The judges enter a separate score for each element and one for the rest of the routine into the computer, which then calculates that judge's overall execution score.

Overall Impression Judges

The overall impression judges have four categories to consider: choreography, synchronization, difficulty and manner of presentation. Again, a score for each category is submitted, then weighted and calculated appropriately to come up with that judge's overall impression score.

A Little Clearer

Judging will never be entirely objective, nor will the scores be entirely predictable. But hopefully, this guide sheds some light on the current evaluating structure and gives you an idea about what those judges are actually thinking—or supposed to be thinking—about when they analyze your performance.

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