Artistic SwimmingNewsAnita Alvarez

Anita Alvarez On The Evolution Of Artistic Swimming And The New Scoring System

by Lisa Costantini

Anita Alvarez competes during the women's solo free finals at the 2022 FINA World Championships on June 22, 2022 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Getty Images)

Enthusiasts of artistic swimming are well-acquainted with the renaming of the sport, which occurred in 2017, transitioning it from what we all knew as synchronized swimming. But one of the lesser-known changes to the sport is a new scoring system that made its international debut in May.

Under the new system, routines are choreographed based on specific categories and assigned a degree of difficulty. Now, there is a greater importance on precision and synchronization, with deductions imposed for failing to execute declared elements correctly. 

Two-time Olympian Anita Alvarez feels the change has made artistic swimming more accessible to a broader audience. “It’s making the sport less subjective, a little bit more high risk, high reward,” she explained. The shift towards objectivity has enabled spectators to better understand why a team is winning or losing, making the sport more attractive to a wider audience.

Alvarez clarified that the concept of “high risk, high reward” does not entail physical danger. Instead, it relates to the level of difficulty chosen for routines: “You can either play it safe and do a lower difficulty, or take risks with higher difficulty elements.” 

The new system encourages athletes to push their limits, offering greater rewards for flawless execution. But safety is still of utmost importance. Initially, there were considerations to rate higher for time spent underwater and the number of movements performed, but these aspects were later removed to maintain athlete safety.

Safety is important to Alvarez, who lost consciousness at an Olympic qualifying event in 2021 and then again at the World Aquatics Championships in June of 2022. The chilling image from the most recent event landed her on Time magazine’s top 100 photos of 2022.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of struggles getting back after that summer,” the 26-year-old shared. “I’ve had to block out all the outside distractions and opinions and really trust my body and my team of doctors and support staff.”

Only one year later, there were no signs of distress when Alvarez and her team took second place at worlds in Fukuoka, Japan, this past July — after 10 years of not having a podium finish. 

The Santa Monica, California, native explained how the prestigious international competition provided the team with a remarkable opportunity to face off against formidable rivals, such as Mexico and Canada, in preparation for the Pan American Games Santiago 2023 this week.

Anita Alvarez competes during the women's solo free finals at the 2022 FINA World Championships on June 22, 2022 in Budapest, Hungary. (Photo by Getty Images)

“It was a first chance to see how we compare against them,” Alvarez recalled. 

The upcoming all-important Olympic qualifier at the Pan Am Games that will be held in Santiago, Chile, will be crucial for Alvarez and her team. A first-place finish will guarantee them a spot for the Olympic Games Paris 2024. Without it, their next chance to qualify would be at world championships in February.

“It has been a kind of rebuild after our team just missed qualifying for the Tokyo Games,” Alvarez shared. Despite the team setback, Alvarez competed, qualifying for her second Olympics in the women’s duet free routine. Unfortunately, she missed qualifying for the finals by less than one point. 

“For Pan Ams, I’m just competing in the team event and putting all my focus and energy there,” she said. In 2016 — at her first Olympics — she also competed in the duet free, coming in 9th with teammate Mariya Koroleva

“I don’t want just two people from the U.S. again to become Olympians. I want eight people to become Olympians,” said Alvarez, who has been on the national team for 10 years. Currently, the team is made up of athletes aged 17 to 44. 

Alvarez discussed the importance of team dynamics and how understanding each team member contributes to their success. “What makes our team so special is that everyone has these different personalities and characteristics that they bring to the team.”

“I think if you’re able to find a way to pull out everyone’s strengths and uniqueness, that’s when you create the best and the strongest teams,” she said. “We try to use those strengths for the betterment of the team, rather than against each other.”

As a seasoned athlete — and the longest-standing national team member — Alvarez hopes to not only be an example to her teammates but also to the next generation. 

“Growing up, I remember reading Synchro magazine and watching teams compete at the highest level,” she said. But there was a time when the U.S. didn’t have a team. “At that time, American kids joining the sport didn’t have a team in their country to look up to. I want to bring the team back up to the level where people look up to the national team and dream to be on that team and go to the Olympics,” she said.

With the sport’s new scoring system and a committed team by her side, Alvarez is poised to make a significant impact in the artistic swimming world, inspiring generations of young athletes to follow in her footsteps and dream of Olympic glory.

Lisa Costantini has covered Olympic and Paralympic sports for more than a decade, including for the International Olympic Committee. She is a freelance writer who has contributed to since 2011.