Described as an aquatic ballet, synchronised swimming has been charming audiences since its Los Angeles debut in 1984. We asked Sandra Blaschke from our Frankfurt office and former member of the German national synchronised swimming team, what it is like to learn and train for this graceful and underestimated sport.
How did you become interested in synchronised swimming?
I started swimming at a very young age, and quickly became really good at it. I began training in synchronised swimming when I was around 10 years old after one day at the pool watching a group of girls dancing beautifully to the music. I thought it was wonderful and decided to give it a try. I found it to be hugely enjoyable and trained hard to see how far I could go in the sport. At the age of 14, I became a member of the German synchronised swimming team and I competed in two European championships on behalf of my country; Moscow in 1994 and Vienna in 1995.
I stopped competing in 1997 and since then have focused on general swimming and the triathlon too. In 2011, I was the Hessen state champion in the 200m butterfly swimming. I’ve also been a swimming coach for babies, children and triathletes looking to improve their swimming techniques since 1993.
Many people probably haven’t tried this sport, what is it like?
It’s fun, but also very demanding. Some people probably think it is just swimming and prettily dancing in the water. But it’s so much more than that. The training is hard. In my teens, I trained six hours per day, seven day a week. At the same time, I was attending school, studying and taking exams, the same as everyone else.
There is so much hard work underneath. This sport combines many difficult things including endurance, strength, teamwork, flexibility and grace. We are using our muscles constantly while holding our breath. If you don't think that's tough, try running as fast as you can without breathing. Plus, as tough as it is, we need to smile and perform while doing it and make it look as easy as possible.
For me and many other synchronised swimmers, the fact that people do not understand the sport well is perhaps the most difficult part to deal with. We have to constantly motivate ourselves that we do the sport because we love it, despite it not being widely recognised or acknowledged.
What do you like most about the sport?
Everything – I love being in the water and I love being part of a team too. Synchronised swimming is very different to other types of team sports in the way that you can’t talk to each other underwater. We still have to communicate with each other though, and we build our own language – using a blink of an eye or a slight wave of the hand, or making funny faces. We learn to read our teammates’ faces and body languages, to know if they are doing okay or having troubles.
It’s a completely different type of communication and it’s challenging, but lots of fun at the same time. This silent language becomes part of us and sometimes, without realising, we used these gestures to each other in a café or on the street! People must have thought we were crazy.
Have you been able to apply any skills learnt through your sport to your business?
It’s all about teamwork in synchronised swimming. You need to communicate with each other, adapt to each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and work together towards a shared goal. The more you can support each other, the better chance of success you’ll have.
It’s the same in business. We always work in a team, and if a member of the team doesn’t understand the task well, or struggles to fulfil it, then other team members need to support him or her and bring them back on track. Otherwise, the whole team will suffer at the end.
And finally, is there a motto that you live by?
Always keep smiling! People must think synchronised swimmers are crazy going up to the water surface with those happy grins. The truth is that when you have been underwater for a minute, you are gasping for breath but you can't let the judges know your stress: hence the smile, which is actually a clever way of gulping in air. It’s amusing if you think about it that way. But for me, I try to have fun in anything I do, however challenging it is. And if you enjoy something, you’ll do it well.