By his own calculation, Team USA’s Bill May has been a synchronized swimmer longer than most professional competitors have been alive.
The 38-year-old, who became interested in the sport at age 10, has been described as “the greatest synchronized swimmer to ever live” by ESPN. He is considered a trailblazer in the sport. May won gold and silver in the mixed duet at the 2015 FINA World Championships, the first time that men were allowed to compete at the FINA-sanctioned event.
Now May is looking to make waves as he competes in the Synchro America Open June 22-24 at the Nassau County Aquatic Center in East Meadow. It is the only international synchronized swimming event held in the United States.
WHAT YOU’LL SEE
Synchronized swimming is a hybrid of gymnastics, swimming and dance accompanied by music.
“The big appeal is you have a dimension that’s athletic and that’s acrobatic and you also have the artistic side,” says Myriam Glez, chief executive and high-performance director of USA Synchro.
Glez swam for 25 years, during which time she represented France at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney and at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.
Synchronized swimming demands strength, flexibility, endurance, and advanced water and breath control. Competitors are not allowed to touch the bottom or walls of the pool. Glez says athletes typically hold their breath a majority of the time they are underwater during a routine.
“Of course it’s not the entire time, it’s intermittent, but it’s 50 to 70 percent of time underwater while moving very fast,” she says.
The sport is particularly challenging because athletes do not compete often, according to Glez. Some athletes average just two contests a year. Few compete while putting a routine together.
“Synchronized swimmers not only have to be athletic but also show composure through beauty and performance as they compete,” May says.
The Long Island competition, part of the inaugural FINA Synchronized Swimming World Series, features more than 130 swimmers from 14 countries in individual, duet or group performances of eight to 10 people. This event typically attracts more than 1,000 spectators over the course of the three days, organizers say.
The competition will feature junior competitors (ages 15 to 18) and senior swimmers (ages 18 and older) from the United States and Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Pakistan, Panama, Slovakia, Spain and Venezuela.
Team USA’s Anita Alvarez, a 2016 Olympian who won a gold medal for a solo performance earlier this year at the China Open, also will compete in the Synchro America Open in the solo and duet events. May will compete in the mixed duet with Kanako Kitao Spendlove, who won a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics in the synchro team competition for Japan.
“After my former duet partners retired, I began training with Kanako Spendlove,” May says. “So we’ve been training together about a year and a half.”
May says he and Spendlove have trained for about a year for one program and six months or so for the other that they’ll be competing in this weekend.
At the Synchro America Open, May will swim to the theme of Medusa in the free duet and to the song “Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing” by Chris Isaak for the technical program.
During international competitions, 15 judges will evaluate the swimmers on execution and synchronization, difficulty and manner of presentations, which includes choreography, creativity and artistic skills.
Glez says fans new and old are always surprised at the athleticism of the sport.
2017 Synchro America Open
WHEN | WHERE June 22-24, Nassau County Aquatic Center at Eisenhower Park, East Meadow. Tickets can be purchased at the door.
INFO 631-951-3900, usasynchro.org
ADMISSION $10 morning session, $20 evening session ($5 ages 12 and younger); $60 event pass ($30 kids)