Sports  Varsity sports hype not in sync with synchronized swimmers

Little recognition for national champions

Synchronized swimming rarely gets the spotlight at McGill, but for no good reason. When the Martlets Synchronized Swimming team isn’t busy training, it’s busy winning national championships. The team has claimed 12 titles as national champions of the Canadian University Synchronized Swim League (CUSSL) since the establishment of the league in 2001-02. The Martlets were named national champions again most recently in February.

With the McGill Invitational Meet – their only home competition – on November 14, The Daily sat down with two members of the team to talk about their experiences, goals, and how to increase the size of their fanbase. Michelle Moore, a third-year Kinesiology student, is on the novice team, and Vickie Leuenberger, a second-year student in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education, is on the expert team. This is Moore’s first year doing synchronized swimming, while Leuenberger has 12 years of experience.

The McGill Daily (MD): I know that McGill isn’t sports fan central; it’s not known for its fanship. But from knowing or seeing McGill sports and the support other teams get, do you feel supported?

Vickie Leuenberger (VL): I feel like [with] synchro, just as a sport in general […] people have a lot of misconceptions, and I feel like […] yes, actually people don’t care [and] don’t know about synchro. […] Just two years ago, we were finally accepted as a varsity team, and I think that was something very important, but I still feel like we’re not having as much support as other teams. Like last year and the one before, our headshots were not even posted on Athletics. […] We’re probably the most successful team at McGill University, and people are not talking about us.

“We’re probably the most successful team at McGill University, and people are not talking about us.”

Also I feel like in general, varsity supports more men’s sports than [women’s] sports. So that’s a bit tricky to talk about, but you know often [for sports that have both men’s and women’s teams] they’re going to only advertise the men’s game […] So of course being a [women-only] sport, we know that we’re not going to get as much support.

Michelle Moore (MM): I know for me, finding out about synchro, it was something I definitely stumbled upon, as opposed to it being advertised to me.

VL: Yeah, exactly, we’re not advertised at all, and that’s super sad. […] But, I mean, I understand that synchro does not bring money, it’s true, and not a lot of people are interested in synchro. Partly because it is a [women’s] sport and secondly because it’s an artistic sport.

MD: I know your team has won the nationals 12 times. For this year, looking forward, what are your goals?

VL: Of course we’d like to bring back that trophy again. […] It’s been a while, since we’ve only had one expert team, but this year we didn’t have enough swimmers to make two teams […] so of course that will make a difference. So I don’t want to be super confident and be like ‘yes, we’re bringing back that trophy,’ but we’ll see.

[Our coaches] want this to be a valuable part of our McGill experience; they want everyone to feel safe and comfortable. […] Yes, it’s stressful […] but I really feel like we support ourselves a lot, so that’s really cool. So yeah, we want to bring back that trophy, but our ultimate goal is to do our best.

MD: What are the most difficult parts of being on the team?

MM: Well, I’d say for me, because it’s my first year, it’s a lot to learn. Even now, it’s still very overwhelming. Even learning how to [go] upside down for the first time, and being like, ‘wow, I’m floating upside down underwater, I’ve never done this before.’ There’s a very steep learning curve.

“[Our coaches] want this to be a valuable part of our McGill experience; they want everyone to feel safe and comfortable.”

VL: I guess with synchro what’s hard [is] we’re really working on having small patterns, so we get kicked a lot. My whole body is like covered in bruises and scratches, it’s really intense.

MM: It’s a full-on contact sport.

VL: Oh, it is, it’s terrible. And we’re also practicing a lot of pilots, which is when you throw someone in the air, but the thing is, I’m the middle person, so when the person falls, she either falls on me or in the water. So I have bruises on my shoulders. The physical part is getting pretty hard.
Michelle, what was one misconception you had about synchro that changed when you started?

MM: I thought that it’d be hard, but I didn’t realize how hard. Because when you watch synchro, it looks so easy, so effortless, and it’s definitely not.

VL: I think another misconception that people have is that [they don’t know] that we don’t touch the bottom, ever, never, never ever. If you touch the bottom, you’re disqualified, so that’s something very serious. People think that we’re just touching in the shallow end, like in Austin Powers […] but that’s not what it is.

—With files from Emile Flavin

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.