Synchro News / Info

Boys welcome too!

Check out this terrific article from the Toronto Star.

They elegantly stride to edge of the pool — he a head taller than she — before diving into the water to begin their synchronized swimming routine.

Decades of effort to increase gender equality in sports has focused on women breaking into male-dominated sports, but what Robert Prevost is showcasing in Toronto at the Canadian championships this week is the reverse of that story.

Synchronized swimming is one of the only sports where men have long been shut out from the highest levels of competition, funding and respect. That’s now in the earliest stages of change. FINA, the international governing body for water sports, allowed men to compete for the first time at the 2015 world championships and, last month asked the International Olympic Committee to include the mixed-duet event in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Prevost started synchronized swimming in Montreal when he was 12 years old, to build on his strength and skills for other sports: swimming, diving and water polo. “It was a way to get more time in the pool, and I found it a lot more challenging than swimming,” he said in explaining why he stuck with this sport longer than the others. As the only boy entered, he said he got a lot of encouragement from parents and coaches when he started competing at the club level, but there was never a possibility of a real future: no place for him on the national team or even the chance to represent Canada at the worlds or Olympics.

He retired in his 20s, his athletic prime, and channeled his passion for the sport into coaching. Prevost hadn’t competed for more than a decade when FINA finally opened the door for men, and he felt he had no choice but to get back into the pool so Canada could send a mixed-duet entry to the 2015 world championships.

“There was no one else,” said Prevost, who finished eighth with Stephanie Leclair, a 2012 Olympian in the women’s team event. Two years later, there still isn’t anyone else. Prevost, now 37, and new partner Isabelle Blanchet-Rampling were the only mixed duet at the Canadian Open championships, which conclude Saturday at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre. It’s now up to a selection committee to determine if they go to the worlds in Budapest in July.

“It’s hasn’t been a barn-burning, floodgates-opening sort of thing,” said Jackie Buckingham, chief executive of Synchro Canada. “It’s going to take some time before it becomes mainstream. Hopefully, (Prevost’s) success will bring more males to the sport.”

The move to legitimize men in synchronized swimming is actually returning to the very earliest days of the sport, when it was based on lifesaving techniques — the first competitions in the 1890s were for men only. It wasn’t until the 1900s that women started to dominate and the Esther Williams aqua-musical films of the 1940s popularized the sport.

Still, here and there through the decades there have always been a few boys and men who were both passionate and stubborn enough to pursue the sport even though they were barred from the top levels. Canada has had several young water polo players who used synchronized swimming training to help their game, and enjoyed it enough to put together a competitive routine. At the elite level, there are several pioneers such as Bill May, who long competed alongside women in the U.S. and pushed for more international opportunities.

“We just don’t have enough of those stories, but I think it will come,” Buckingham said.

In many ways, the mixed duet is developing more like pairs figure skating than the conventional female duet, which demands two swimmers to be mirror images of each other — right down to the way they point their fingers and toes. That’s not a protocol that works so well with the different body compositions of males and females, and the mixed-duet scoring system has changed to encourage more lifts and throws and allow for the concept that the partners might do different things.

“There’s the whole relationship between the male and the female in terms of choreography and captivating an audience. What we’re trying to do with our sport is build its profile and grow an audience that loves to come and watch, and I think having males involved allows for that whole other dynamic that, to this point, we haven’t had,” Buckingham said. “Who knows where it could go.” It may go some way towards increasing respect for this generally misunderstood sport.

In the battle to be taken seriously and stay relevant, synchronized swimming hasn’t done itself any favours by hiding much of its athleticism beneath glitz and performance smiles. That’s something Canada’s entire team is trying to change with attempts to ramp up the technical difficulty with increased speed and dramatic lifts in their eight-woman routines.

The mixed duet offers the possibility of even more spectacular lifts and throws to really showcase the sport’s athletic side. “I think it’s fantastic. Why not include as many people as you can?” Gabriella Brisson, a competitor on the national women’s team, said of the inclusion of men. But she’s a little more mixed on the idea that having men in the sport might help people realize how physically demanding it really is. “As strong, empowered young women, I wish we could do that on our own, but that’s the way the world works right now and if that’s going to help us catch a little bit of a break, then I will take it.”

May, the best-known male pioneer, is used to explaining the challenges of the sport that captured him when he was 10 years old and hasn’t let go. ‘‘Physically, synchronized swimming is one of the toughest sports in the world because it combines so many other sports — swimming, gymnastics, ballet, the (cardiovascular system) of a runner — and you do it all without touching the bottom or the luxury of breathing,” said May, who won gold (tech program) and silver (free program) at the 2015 worlds.

“I loved it from a very young age and I was stubborn, so when someone told me I couldn’t do it, or there was no future for me, that drove me even more to prove them wrong,” he said. “Women should be able to do whatever sport or trade they want to do, and so should men.” But he, like Prevost, had given up on the possibility of it happening in his lifetime. He was shocked, thrilled and immediately in a panic about getting back into competitive form after FINA announced men would finally be allowed at the worlds. “Luckily I had to stay in shape in the show,” he said, referring to Cirque du Soleil’s water-based spectacle in Las Vegas, where he performs. “If I had taken those 10 years off, I probably would have cried.”

The International Olympic Committee is set to announce changes to the 2020 Summer Games menu in July. If mixed duet makes it, May plans to be there. “Absolutely, 100 per cent,” said May, who would be 41 years old by then. Prevost, who is one year younger and already works a 70-hour week as a coach and pool manager for the city of Montreal, feels the same way. “I feel young,” he said, smiling. “I have no choice.”

By KERRY GILLESPIESports reporter
Fri., May 5, 2017

Fredericton Synchro "See it, try it"

posted Aug 30, 2016, 10:44 PM by Fredericton Synchro

Love the water? 
Join members of the Fredericton Synchro club for an evening of fun games and activities. 
There will be lots to see and do! Swimmers of all ages welcome.

Summer Synchro & Bootcamp

posted Jun 30, 2016, 7:03 PM by Fredericton Synchro   [ updated Jun 30, 2016, 7:04 PM ]

A reminder that summer synchro and summer bootcamp are underway every Tuesday and Thursday.
Bootcamp: 5-6pm (Bizz Fitness). Synchro: 6:30-8:30pm (UNB pool).
Feel free to contact Julie MacFarlane with any questions -

Cheers to you, Heather

posted Jun 28, 2016, 6:18 AM by Fredericton Synchro   [ updated Jun 28, 2016, 6:19 AM ]

The following is an article from the Fredericton Daily Gleaner featuring one of Fredericton Synchro's Coaches, Heather Zilbert :

After 30 years of coaching with the Fredericton Synchronized Swimming Club, Heather Zilbert is stepping away from her daily role.
According to former coaches, former teammates and current athletes, Fredericton Synchro would not be where it is without her.
Following a career that began when she was 8 and included multiple appearance at Nationals and the 1983 Canada Games, Zilbert retired from active competition at 18.

She had been coaching younger athletes as she moved up the ranks, and decided that coaching was how she would stay in the synchro world.“For me it was the only way to stay involved with the sport,”said Zilbert.“The artistic side I love about the sport, I was and am still able to do every time we do choreography. I love the music, I love the inspiration behind the music and I love watching the swimmers produce.”

Zilbert, who was enrolled at the University of New Brunswick, stepped into the head coaching role with the club. Times weren’t good for Fredericton Synchro when she took over. Membership was dwindling and the club lacked an overarching structure. “I was the only coach for a while,” Zilbert said.“We used to be an A Level Club but the girls moving up were younger and inexperienced and all of our elite athletes had moved on. I took over the head coaching position of a B Level Club and moved it to the University of New Brunswick and it became an A Level Club.” With the move came renewed vigour and growth. Time and tide wait for no one, however, and Zilbert’s life outside the pool led her to take a leave of absence to begin raising a family. Nancy Ketch, who swam with Zilbert, was recruited as the head coach of the now burgeoning organization.

“I worked for a little while without Heather. Then I needed her because the club grew and she came back,” said Ketch. “She said ‘I’ll coach a few hours a week’ and before she knew it I guess I had convinced her to take on a lot more. That was probably 17 or 18 years ago and she’s been coaching ever since.” Zilbert and Ketch, along with the club’s other athletes and coaches, have been building over that time into one of the premier synchro clubs in the province. Of the 10 synchronized swimmers who represented New Brunswick at the Canada Games in 2015, six came from Fredericton.

Alexa Washburn, who was one of Zilbert’s first coaches back in the club’s Saunders Street days (and who is Ketch’s sister, in case you were wondering what a small world synchro can be), attributes much of that success to Zilbert’s skill and dedication.
“When we go to Nationals, she’s recognized. I think she exemplifies everything that’s good about being involved in a sport,” said Washburn.“As such a small province, we have had successes on the national stage. Team New Brunswick, who is coached by a Fredericton coach, just came sixth in Canada, against teams that could qualify for Olympics.”

Josee Thomas, who picked up a bronze at Nationals this year in her solo routine, credits Zilbert with refining and building on her existing skills over the past six years. Coaching is largely about finding the right balance between reinforcement and constructive criticism and Thomas identifies this as the trait that makes ZIlbert a successful coach. “When she coaches she can be just firm enough when she has to be so that everyone really listens and respects her,” said Thomas.“I find there’s a perfect balance between being nice and kind to your swimmers and having the firmness to get things done. I think she balances that really well. For choreography (she is) super creative. She’s really good at adapting to all the different girls and all our different strengths.”

Zilbert plans to remain involved in some capacity with synchro (given how that went the first time perhaps we’ll be running another version of this article in 30 years). Having spent most of her life involved in the day-to-day of synchro while also working full time, currently as the manager at the Kingswood Fitness Centre, she feels it’s time for something else. “I’ll still visit and if they need help and coach mentoring,” Zilbert said. “But there are new coaches coming up, coaches that I have coached, that I know will do a wonderful job. I think I’m ready to move on and do some other things. I don’t know life without synchro so I think it’s time I got to know it a little bit.”

Pictured: Senior soloist Josée Thomas and out-going Fredericton Synchronized Swimming Club coach Heather Zilbert

Team NB Celebrates a Terrific Year!

posted Jun 28, 2016, 6:10 AM by Fredericton Synchro   [ updated Jul 20, 2016, 12:50 PM ]

The New Brunswick Provincial Junior Team capped off an excellent competition season with a 6th place finish at the Shiseido Canadian Open Championships in April. Congratulations! What a great way to end the season.


Team  Coach— Ashley Hines
Assistant Coach— Pam Bursey
Team Members— 
Hannah Cameron, Megan Davidson, Jillian Downey, Josee Goguen, Brianna Hawryluk, Megan McGuigan, Maggie Morrison, Jillian Murdoch, Gillian O’Neill, and Jaiden Regnier

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