Boys in the water - Czech male synchronized swimmers dream of Olympic glory

Synchronized swimming used to be a female sport only. Thin, fit, sporty girls disappear under water only to reappear with the next loud beat and spin with the tips of their toes pointing to the heavens. It's an impressive and tough sport - gymnastics in water. Just a few years ago the idea of a male team of synchronized swimmers would have caused a good few smirks, but today they have their very own international championship. It doesn't yet have hard-and-fast rules and only very few teams take part, but one of them is from the Czech Republic. The Czech team, calling themselves "Krasoplavci" - which roughly translates as figure or beauty swimmers are the first and so far the only team here.

They struggle with choreography that more experienced women synchronized swimmers would probably consider very easy, but they are gradually mastering this tough sport. They don't have any age limit - the oldest member is 60, the youngest 28. Krasoplavci swim for fun in striped old-fashioned swimming costumes and waterproof bowler hats, as they elegantly dance under water to the tones of Bedrich Smetana and Antonin Dvorak.

This is not an opera performance. I am standing at a swimming pool watching eight nice men practicing for their synchronized swimming performance. Here with me is also:

"My name is Jan Mares and I am, I would say, the president of the team. At the moment the rest of the team is practicing for their upcoming show which is next Friday. They are practicing two performances which we have. It will be a show for a company which has some company celebration. It will be in style of old Prague in the last century. We are a team that feels at home in that period. The style of the music is as you can hear is from Czech composers. We have two performances one is for Smetana's 'Vltava' and one is for Dvorak's 'Slavonic Dances'."

What are reactions of viewers?

"Everybody reacts somehow. Some think we are crazy men, some like it because they think it is fun. Everybody reacts somehow. Most probably we were the first team in the world who started to do synchronized swimming, or at least one of the first teams. So half is sport and half is serious. We organized the first competition in the world here in Prague two weeks ago. We had four teams from different counties including us. It is fun and it is a sport."

How did you do in the competition?

"We came second but it was not the point. The point was to have a competition like that - to start something new. It really was not the point how good we were because it was very difficult for the judges to judge this competition. It was the very first competition in the world. The ladies who judged were typical lady judges for female competitions. They did not know how to judge males. The second difficult part was that there were very different teams. The team from France had only 3 members and the team from Sweden had 13 members. So it is very difficult to compare 13 and 3 men in water. Usually in the ladies if there is a team of 3 members it can't compete in competition but we did not want to say to French 'Sorry you cannot compete because of the rules.' We need everyone to compete to show what they know to help this sport to grow."

Photo: www.krasoplavci.czPhoto: www.krasoplavci.cz You wear special swimming costumes when you perform, don't you?

"Yes, we have special suits that are a little bit inspired by old times in the Czech Republic. It was inspired by one movie called 'Rozmarne leto', I would say 'Crazy Summer' in English. So our suits are inspired by it."

You took part in the Olympic Games in Sydney in 2000.

"It was not only in Sydney. It was in Sydney and Athens last year. It was not a competition because we had no one to compete; we were the only team there. We were not a part of the official program. We tried but Olympics are such a big sport event. There is no time for some sports. They cannot handle such a big action. So we had no chance to get into the Olympics. So we went there by ourselves, found a swimming pool, did a little promotion and made our show in a little pool in the centre of Sydney. This was very nice, Australians really liked it and there was a big interest from the Australian media. We were so happy. Four years after Sydney we went to Athens. But six months before we went to Athens we had contacted a team in Sweden which we had not known about before. We asked if they would go to Athens. They said 'Yes, we will be there.' So we met them there, the first team that does synchronized swimming too. We had two performances in a swimming pool in Athens with them. Then we agreed to organize a competition. We tried to find other teams. We found another Dutch and a French team so we had four teams together. So it all started in Sydney. We hope it will get to the Olympics one day. Then we will remember ourselves as those who were at the beginning. But I don't think it will be at the next Olympics!"

What about the beginnings? How did you get this idea?

"It was my friend Martin Kopecky who is not here today. It was back in 1998. He was at home watching a big international competition of synchronized swimming. It was here in Prague and it was called an "A cup" - it is a kind of European championship of synchronized swimming. He was watching it on TV and the thought came into his mind. If ladies can do boxing, football and hockey, typically male sports why don't men do a typical female sport? He had an idea to create a team of male synchronized swimmers. He called some people because we didn't know each other, he put together a team - 10 people. I did not know the people then. We lost one, he died. We found new people, 3 friends and now we are 12 people in the team.

You even have a fan club!

"Yes we have a little fan club. They call themselves a fan club but it is not like a fan club of a big superstar. But we have one. These are the people who are mostly friends of us but they really support us and have helped us many times. When we need to organize something, like traveling to Sydney or Athens they really help and support us."

What about your trainer. That is the only woman in your team.

"Yes, of course, she is the only woman in the team. We are really happy about her. When we came here for the first time it was not sure we would keep trying because we didn't know each other and did not know how we would like it. She was the one who said - 'O.K. I will try it with them.' She was on the same wavelength as we are. This is a kind of person, it doesn't matter if it is a woman or a man, who can control us and we accept her. She is a former synchronized swimmer and she is a trainer of ladies as well. Sometimes when she is sick or on holiday and she cannot train us someone else tries to train us but other ladies don't have much respect from us. She was the right thing that happened to us at the beginning. Because without her I don't think that we could exist anymore."

Why synchronized swimming? Why not football, why not hockey?

It is a good question. I have never thought about it like that. Synchronized swimming is more fun for me. No everybody likes football or hockey or sports like that. We like synchronized swimming.