Windsor·Q&A

Diving in with Jackie Buckingham, CEO of Canada Artistic Swimming

The 2019 UANA Pan American artistic swimming championships are in the pool this week at the Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre.

'It's the acrobatic moves that continue to evolve and become more complex and spectacular'

Windsor Morning's Peter Duck spoke with Jackie Buckingham, the CEO of Canada Artistic Swimming for a deep dive on the sport and the event.  (Peter Duck/CBC)

The 2019 UANA Pan American artistic swimming championships are in the pool this week at the Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre.

Windsor Morning's Peter Duck spoke with Jackie Buckingham, the CEO of Canada Artistic Swimming for a deep dive on the sport and the event. 

I wasn't sure what artistic swimming was when I heard this event was going on. What sport are we talking about here? 

The sport was formerly called synchronized swimming and changed its name in 2017. It's it's been an interesting transition, and for us as an organization led to an entire rebrand. So it's been very exciting.

What is artistic about this sport in your mind?

Well because it's a sport that combines art and sport like figure skating and gymnastics. There is a component of musical interpretation. There's definitely a performance component. But the nature of this sport, given its complexity and  the physicality demanded in order to participate ... it is the sort of perfect blend of sport and art. So the name is completely suitable.

What would you say artistic swimming is like today compared to 20, 50 or 100 years ago?

It's definitely more difficult. So the swimmers are just incredible ... the level of ability that they have and their continual ability to push the sport forward in terms of the level of complexity of the elements and the skills they're demonstrating underwater. 

It's the acrobatic moves that continue to evolve and become more complex and spectacular and I know that's what the audience loves to come and see.

What are the most common silly questions that you get about your sport?

I mean we often get questioned about how long they can hold their breath underwater. Most people are genuinely interested in in how they do it. A lot of time is spent upside down, so it's that sense of spatial awareness and the ability to sustain yourself in the water — legs out — a lot of the time. Truthfully, it's very difficult.

How well can the athletes hear the music when they're under the water?

We actually accommodate that by putting underwater speakers in the pool facility.

Why is it that the athletes smile so much? I just wonder if there are routines that have more dramatic or brooding choreography of music that convey a different range of emotions. 

As a presentation sport and as a judge sport, there is definitely a component of facial expression that's considered and it is supposed to reflect the mood of the routine. As the routines become more sophisticated the facial expressions tend to match. 

Why don't we see men competing in artistic swimming?

You will, more and more. It takes a little while for the countries to evolve because it has traditionally been a female-only sport. We have started a brand new program at the bottom of our program which is designed for five to nine year olds boys and girls to teach the basics of aquatic literacy.

This program, for us, will be the entry point for males who will eventually come through the sport and participate at the international level. We can definitely see in the future there could be teams of eight athletes, with four men and four women. So it's a little ways in the future but I think that's probably the direction we'll see the sport go next.

How healthy is the sport in Canada right now, in terms of the number of young people participating?

It's very stable. It's not a huge sport. .. it's a sport that attracts a certain clientele, particularly at the moment. Female athletes who have a gymnastics or potentially diving background, but it's it is definitely expanding in terms of what the future looks like. 

What are Canada's prospects at the highest level now heading into the 2020 Games.

There's no question the sport became really competitive when the additional European countries entered and there is a real strength in the sport now spread between Europe, Asia and North America. The competition is intense and fierce and that has driven the sport forward, so the athletes are responding by increasing the level of technical ability and it keeps pushing the sport forward.

From a spectator perspective this is a healthy thing for us. We've set our sights on the podium in 2024.

The 2019 UANA Pan American artistic swimming championships are in the pool this week at the Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre. (Peter Duck/CBC)

Tell us about this event here in Windsor.

Windsor has this absolutely spectacular facility and the city is awesome to work with. We've really appreciated both Windsor tourism and the city folks themselves. It's just a lovely place to come. 

Is there much of a history of athletes from the Windsor area participating in artistic swimming?

We do not have a club in the Windsor area at the moment. It is definitely on our wish list.

What should people expect if they come out to watch this week?

Well it's it's exciting. These are younger athletes and they are amazingly talented. They're from nine different countries all in the Americas. The performances are great, the athletes are very entertaining. 

They're having fun, they're learning as they go and they're loving Windsor.

Interview content has been edited for clarity and length. 

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