From the "Absurdly Talented" Files: Synchronized Swimmers

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It turns out that Cirque du Soleil's water-based shows in Las Vegas have upped the ante for the rest of the synchronized swimming world.

Many credit the Las Vegas shows for influencing the new direction of the sport to include more daring acrobatic moves. Using jumps, double back flips and handstands, choreographers are spicing up their swimmers’ routines with moves that have more than one coach worrying about injuries.

“Everyone wants to increase the difficulty of their routine and the ‘wow’ factor,” Mahoney said. “The more acrobatics you do, the more difficulty points you get. Now it’s not a question of how risky is the move, but how many people can you lift, or does it spin up or down?”

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When Tammy McGregor coached the 2008 Olympic synchronized swimming team, she took her athletes to the Circus Center San Francisco to learn to integrate more acrobatics into their routines.

Young girls, she said, “like the risk factor and basically want to do tricks in the water.” Unlike Mahoney, she said she thought these changes were less about the newer Vegas shows and more about an evolution of the sport.

“It’s been coming since before the shows,” McGregor said. “The Russians have been really advancing the role of acrobatics in synchro. They have a swimmer who can jump 15 feet in the air.”

“It’s a contact sport now,” she added. “So they can’t ridicule us anymore.”

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