Synchronized Swimming Figures
Figures are technical elements competed in the 12 and under, 13-15 and junior categories. Each age group has a different set of figures attributed to them, including mandatory and optionals. The optional group of figures is randomly drawn 18 to 72 hours before the start of the figure competition, and has to be made public. Each athlete must wear a black bathing suit with a white cap in order to lessen bias and favoritism as much as possible. Jewelry or makeup is not allowed. Each figure is judged from the standpoint of perfection. The accuracy of positions and transitions are evaluated, as well as control, extension, speed, height, stability and uniform motion.
Like in any judged sport, perfection is nearly impossible to attain in this aquatic competition. Very good figure scores range from 8.0 to 8.9, while satisfactory is from 5.0-5.9. The highest and lowest scores are cancelled and the other are averaged. That average is then multiplied by the degree of difficulty of each figure.
A synchronized swimming meet will often have two very different parts to it – 1) a lively, loud, and colorful part where the athletes swim in teams to complicated and exciting choreography, and 2) a much slower, quieter part where the swimmers, all dressed in black suits and white caps, individually perform a single move in front of a panel of judges. This slower part of the meet is called the “figures” competition.
Just what are “figures” in synchronized swimming, and why are they so important to spend time on and master these skills?
Figures are the more technical side and skills-based side of synchronized swimming. Routines are the more artistic side. Figures help the girls with movement and flexibility. They also teach the athletes what they should be doing at each age level. Ideally, figures will teach the swimmers the progression of how to do certain skills so that, when they are older and ready to do the more complicated versions, they know how to do them. So, the real purpose of figures in this sport is to help build each competitor gain skills.
How many figures are there?
Every four years, FINA (the Synchro international governing body) selects eight of them for each age group to focus on. From these eight, there are two compulsories swum at every aquatic event, and then two more are chosen randomly for each meet by the Technical Chair of the Region or Zone. It used to be that athletes would know far in advance which figures would be competed at specific meets, so the swimmers would just focus on those. But today, we find out only 18 – 72 hours in advance of a meet what the figures will be. This requires the girls to know all the figures evenly. It’s challenging to know all eight figures throughout the season!
Why do the figures change every four years?
Different figures get athletes’ bodies to do different things. A new set might include the same set of skills, just at a higher difficulty. Or, perhaps the new figure requires the swimmer to focus on speed or agility. Thus, those qualities will be added to the required figures. For example, if they want to see more flexibility in the sport, a split might be added to the figure. Figures today now require more back and leg flexibility than in the past.
Why do the athletes all wear black suits and white caps for a figures competition?
The idea is that if everyone looks the same, the judges will only focus on the elements of the figure, increasing objectivity. The judges can evaluate the competitor based on the skills in the figure and the swimmer’s ability to perform the figure.
How are figures scored in competition?
Every athlete performs a figure in front of a panel of judges. If there are enough judges at a meet, there will often be four separate panels the female swimmers will rotate through, each one judging a different figure. Each judge will rate the figure on a scale of 1 to 10. The high and low scores get thrown out, and the rest of the scores are averaged together and factored with the figure’s degree of difficulty for an official score.
Are figures treated as a separate event at meets, just like solos, duets, and team competitions?
Yes, figures are considered a separate event and athletes can earn awards just for their figures results. However, figures scores in the US also count for 50% of the total routine scores. As an example, if a synchronized team routine scored 60 points and the figures score was 40 points, the final score for the swimmers would be those numbers added together equally, for a total of 100 points. Another team could have the exact same routine score of 60, but, if their figures score was higher – 50, for example – then they would win the competition with a total of 110 points. Therefore, doing well in figures is really important for this aquatic competition!
However, it can work both ways. Figures scores have been known to raise athletes up in the final standings, but they’ve also lowered competitors from where they would have been if only the routine score was considered.
How are figures counted toward a final score when there are two people in a duet or eight people on a team?
All the figures scores are averaged together. The figures scores of the individual swimmers are added together and then divided by the number of athletes in the routine. In a duet, for example, each figure score is added together and the total is divided by 2. For a team, the individual figure scores are totaled and then divided by the number of swimmers on the team.
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