Olympic artistic swimming open to men for first time in 2024

Bill May
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Men are eligible for Olympic artistic swimming for the first time at the 2024 Paris Games, the IOC confirmed Thursday.

Up to two men per country will be allowed in the eight-person team event, though nations may still elect to send all-woman teams.

Artistic swimming, formerly known as synchronized swimming, has been on the Olympic program since 1984.

“The inclusion of men in Olympic artistic swimming was once considered the impossible dream,” 43-year-old American Bill May, considered a pioneer in men’s artistic swimming, said in a press release. “This proves that we should all dream big. The male athletes have endured. Now, through their perseverance and the help and support of so many, all athletes may stand alongside each other equally, reaching for Olympic glory.”

In October, World Aquatics, the international governing body for swimming events, amended its rules to allow up to two men per country in the artistic team event at competitions including the Olympics.

But it still needed IOC approval to change the previously published rules for the 2024 Paris Games.

The IOC said in November that it was working with World Aquatics “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.”

On Thursday, the IOC said in a statement, “The Olympic Programme Commission has reviewed the World Aquatics (formerly FINA) rule change for Artistic Swimming and confirmed that the event would be listed as Open for Paris 2024.”

Rhythmic gymnastics is now the lone discipline that is not open to men at the Olympics. Nordic combined, a Winter Games event, is the lone sport that is not open to women at the Olympics.

Since 2015, the world championships in artistic swimming have included a mixed duet with one male swimmer and female swimmer, an event that is not on the Olympic program.

U.S. artistic swimming head coach Andrea Fuentes said this fall that she was looking forward to having men in her athlete pool for the team event.

“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 World Aquatics announced last month will be added to the Olympic event for Paris.

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 World Aquatics artistic swimming official on Oct. 20. May described his reaction as “an explosion. Not just for me. For the sport.”

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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Isabeau Levito, Bradie Tennell, Amber Glenn named to U.S. team for World Championships

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SAN JOSE, Calif. – With a calm command belying her age, Isabeau Levito has taken control of U.S. women’s skating at age 15.

Levito came here as the solid favorite to take her first national title, and she did it with a seemingly effortless grace, her balletic style producing solid winning performances in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate.

She was the last of 18 skaters in the free skate, following rivals who made mistakes big and small. Levito did not need perfection, but her skating approached it, even if the execution of some jumps could have been better.

Levito left no doubt of her superiority and burst into a wide smile even before the scores were announced. After a narrow win over Bradie Tennell (.02 points) in the short program, Levito (223.33) wound up 10.21 points ahead of the runner-up Tennell (213.12) in the final standings.

Amber Glenn was third at 207.44. She, Levito and Tennell will fill the three women’s places on the U.S. team for the March World Championships in Japan.

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Two of the three U.S. women’s skaters on the 2022 Olympic team have announced their retirements (Alysa Liu and Mariah Bell; Karen Chen is a student at Cornell and might not return). Given that and Tennell’s recurrent problems with injuries, Levito’s stature as the leading U.S. woman seemed assured. Whatever pressure she felt holding that position was not evident.

“My entire goal truly for both programs was to stay composed and to really try to suppress my nerves as much as possible and to really not let little minor silly mistakes happen,” Levito said. “I feel as though I did just that today and I’m very proud of myself for it.”

“I’ve gotten very good at suppressing nerves,” she had said after the short program. “I still feel the effects of the competition. But I find my own way mentally to handle it.”

For both Tennell and Glenn, there was a redemptive quality to their skating.

Neither had a result at last year’s nationals. Glenn had to withdraw after the short program when she tested positive for COVID. Tennell never made it to the event because of the foot injury that kept her out of competition for all last season.

“Honestly, it was terrifying being back here after the conclusion of my season last year,” Glenn said. “That was a big mental hurdle for me, but I was happy I was actually able to enjoy myself again and enjoy competing.”

Glenn made her 10th career attempt at a triple axel, stepping out of the landing after getting full rotational credit. Her persistence in trying that jump, which she never has landed cleanly, is one reason she was holding her hip after finishing the free skate. Glenn insisted it was just soreness.

“An unfortunate side effect of being 23 and doing these ultra (difficult) elements is my body can’t always keep up very well,” Glenn said.

Tennell, who turns 25 Tuesday, has been battling an injury in her right foot for more than a year, then an injury in her left foot since October. She fought past all that to make the podium for the fifth time in her last five nationals – twice first, twice second and once third.

“This one probably means the most, because I didn’t think I was going to be able to do this again,” Tennell said. “To be here and to have achieved it, especially after the (poor) start of my season and the bumps that I had to overcome, I’m very proud of what I accomplished.”

Levito, the reigning world junior champion, reeled off seven triple jumps, two in combination with other triple jumps. She glided from element to element seamlessly.

“I finally skated the free the way I’ve been training to do it,” she said.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 12 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Scotty James wins fifth X Games snowboard halfpipe title

Scotty James
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Scotty James doesn’t have Olympic gold, but he remains king of the X Games halfpipe.

James, the Australian snowboarder who took bronze and silver at the last two Olympics, earned his fifth Aspen gold, repeating as champ of the biggest annual contest under falling snow in the Colorado Rockies. Only the retired Shaun White has more X Games men’s snowboard halfpipe titles with eight.

Nobody on Friday night attempted a triple cork, which was first done in competition by Japan’s Ayumu Hirano last season en route to the Olympic title. Hirano placed sixth Friday.

“It was a tough night, pretty interesting conditions,” James said. “Had to adjust the game plan. The show goes on.”

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

Earlier, Olympic gold medalist Zoi Sadowski-Synnott of New Zealand repeated as women’s snowboard slopestyle champion, passing Olympic bronze medalist Tess Coady of Australia on the final run of the competition. Sadowski-Synnott, the only snowboarder or skier to win Olympic, world and X Games slopestyle titles, capped her finale with back-to-back 900s.

The competition lacked 2014 and 2018 Olympic champion Jamie Anderson, who announced her pregnancy last month.

Canada’s Megan Oldham landed the first triple cork in women’s ski big air competition history to beat Olympic silver medalist Tess Ledeux of France, according to commentators. Oldham, a 21-year-old ex-gymnast, was fourth at the Olympics.

Eileen Gu, the Olympic champion from China, did not compete but is entered in halfpipe and slopestyle later this weekend.

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