Something new for Olympic artistic swimming: men

Bill May
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Artistic swimming, formerly known as synchronized swimming, has been on the Olympic program since 1984. It has always been a women’s-only discipline at the Games. That may change in Paris in 2024.

FINA, the international governing body for aquatic sports, last month amended its rules to allow up to two men per country in the artistic team event at competitions including the Olympics.

However, that has not gone into effect for the 2024 Paris Games. Not yet at least. The official 2024 Olympic documentation for artistic swimming has not been changed from what was initially published in July, before the FINA rule passed.

The International Olympic Committee pointed out that the Paris 2024 event program and athlete quotas were approved in December 2020, 22 months before FINA moved to allow men in the team event at future Olympics.

When asked if it’s too late to change the team event’s athlete makeup for Paris 2024, the IOC said it “is currently working with FINA to understand their long term development plans for the integration of men into artistic swimming, and the opportunities that may exist for men to compete in artistic swimming at the Olympic Games.”

Key U.S. artistic swimming figures believe that the change will go into effect for Paris. The IOC may have an update at or following its next executive board meeting in two weeks.

U.S. artistic swimming head coach Andrea Fuentes is looking forward to having men in her athlete pool for the team event. There are candidates. Since 2015, the world championships have included a mixed duet with one male swimmer and female swimmer, an event that is not on the Olympic program.

“We have males ready to swim, but there are other countries who have not,” Fuentes said, adding that she will decide whether to enter men in upcoming team competitions to test them out. “I want inclusion. … If I have the opportunity to do it, I will for sure use it.”

The current U.S. national team includes 25 athletes: 24 women and one man: Kenny Gaudet, an 18-year-old from Lakeland, Florida, recently highlighted by the Los Angeles Times. Gaudet has competed in solo and duet events, plus is part of the U.S. team in the acrobatic routine that FINA announced last week will be added to the Olympic event for Paris.

“With time, it’s becoming a sport where we need more strength, more power,” Fuentes said. “Naturally, men have more strength.

“We can use the strength of each individual in a different way. We have a female swimmer, for example, who is extremely light. So imagine [a male artistic swimmer] pushing to the air this super light person. You can make the most impactful acrobatics to have ever happened in our sport, no? So it changes everything.”

Bill May, a 43-year-old American, is a pioneer for men’s artistic swimming. He came out of a 10-year retirement — spending much of that time performing in a Cirque du Soleil water show — when the mixed duet was added to worlds. He partnered with Christina Jones to win the first gold.

May said there have been discussions about adding men since at least 2000, back when he didn’t know of any other men in the sport.

May, who last competed in 2021 and now coaches the Santa Clara Aquamaids program in California, said he learned of male Olympic inclusion via text message from a FINA artistic swimming official on Oct. 20. May described his reaction as “an explosion. Not just for me. For the sport.”

“The world all of a sudden becomes tunnel vision,” said May, who was elected onto FINA’s athlete commission in June. “All of these people that we’ve had that camaraderie together now have the opportunity to compete at a competition we thought we could only dream of.

“Every male athlete, every coach, every federation, every official that is pushing for men, it’s not to push females out. It’s to expand the sport that we all love and respect so much.”

The U.S. still must qualify for the 10-nation 2024 Olympic team event. It failed to reach the last three Olympics. It missed the Tokyo Games by one spot and .2108 of a point in a last-chance qualifier.

At this past summer’s world championships, the U.S. placed sixth in the technical routine, ninth in the free routine and fifth in the highlight (acrobatic) routine, the three events that will make up future Olympic competition. That was its best combined result at a worlds since 2007, the last year it qualified for the Olympic team event.

For 2024, the winner of the 2023 Pan American Games qualifies for the Olympics. The U.S. is expected to contend with Canada and Mexico for that spot.

If the U.S. does not win Pan Ams, its last shot to qualify will be the February 2024 World Championships. The top five nations among those not already qualified via continental championships will round out the 10-nation Olympic field.

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Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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Mark McMorris breaks Winter X Games medals record; David Wise wins first title in 5 years

Mark McMorris
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Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris broke his tie with American Jamie Anderson for the most Winter X Games medals across all sites, earning his 22nd medal, a slopestyle gold, in Aspen, Colorado.

On the final run of Sunday’s contest, McMorris overtook Norway’s Marcus Kleveland with back-to-back 1620s on the last two jumps. McMorris’ last three Aspen slopestyle titles were all won on his final run (2019, 2022).

“It’s something I never thought would ever come to me as a kid from Saskatchewan,” McMorris, 29, said on the broadcast. “Everything’s just been a bonus since I became a pro snowboarder.”

In a format introduced three years ago, athletes were ranked on overall impression of their best run over the course of a jam session rather than scoring individual runs.

McMorris won his record-extending seventh X Games Aspen men’s slopestyle title, one day after finishing fourth in big air.

“It just keeps getting crazier because I keep getting older,” he said. “People just keep pushing the limits, pushing the limits. Last night was such a downer, almost bums me out, like, dude, do I still have it? … To have one of those miracle wins where you do it on the last run and someone makes you push yourself, those are the best feelings.”

McMorris won slopestyle bronze medals at each of the last three Olympics and reportedly said last February that he was planning to compete through the 2026 Milan-Cortina Winter Games.

Canadian Max Parrot, the 2022 Olympic slopestyle champion, is taking this season off from competition.

Anderson, a two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion, is expecting her first child.

Later Sunday, American David Wise earned his first major ski halfpipe title since repeating as Olympic champion in 2018. Wise landed back-to-back double cork 1260s to end his winning run, according to commentators.

“I wouldn’t still be out here if I didn’t think I had a chance,” Wise, 32 and now a five-time X Games Aspen champ, said on the broadcast. “I’m not going to be the guy who just keeps playing the game until everybody just begs me to stop.”

U.S. Olympian Mac Forehand won men’s ski big air with a 2160 on his last run, according to commentators. It scored a perfect 50. Olympic gold medalist Birk Ruud of Norway followed with a triple cork 2160 of his own, according to commentators, and finished third.

Canadian skier Megan Oldham added slopestyle gold to her big air title from Friday, relegating Olympic champion Mathilde Gremaud of Switzerland to silver.

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