A reader named Allison emails with a good question: Why do the Olympic diving events include a “synchronized” category while other, potentially synchronizable events don’t?
Great topic! Who hasn’t wondered about synchronized water sports, and why they exist? Synchronized swimming has a long and interesting history which I’ll tell you about some other time. (It involves Benjamin Franklin, Wright Junior College, and the 1934 World’s Fair—but, then, which Olympic sports don’t involve those things?) Synchronized diving, on the other hand, is a much more recent invention. Whereas synchronized swimming, which might better be described as “water ballet,” involves multiple swimmers creating a complex aquatic routine of the sort that might conceivably be filmed in an overhead shot for inclusion in a movie with a name like Freshwater Follies of 1939, synchronized diving is just two divers attempting to hit the water at the same time.
If you think this sounds like the sort of sport that was thought up on the fly to pass the time during a slow day at Sea World, well, you’re not entirely wrong. (Except for the Sea World part.) Though the concept has been around forever, its modern incarnation apparently traces back to a guy named Tom Gompf, an Olympic medalist and diving world bigwig who, in the 1990s, saw synchronized diving as a way to rekindle public interest in the sport after the retirement of Greg Louganis, America’s springboard sweetheart. “Diving has had the same four events since the 1920 Olympics. Swimming has gone from eight to 32 swimming events,” Gompf told the Sun-Sentinel in 1995. “We needed to add a new element, something a little more spectacular.”
The path to Olympic sport-dom can take some pretty arbitrary turns, but generally, a sports needs two things to get approved for the games: a powerful advocate and a guaranteed minimum level of public interest. Tom Gompf was a good shepherd: He organized a bunch of events and competitions, built some buzz, worked his Rolodex, and, presto, synchronized diving became an Olympic sport in 2000.
So, what should be the next Olympic event to get a synchronized variant? Here are some sports that could use a Gompf of their own:
Trampoline: I think we can all agree that synchronized trampoline would be pretty damn amazing. Multiple trampolinists having to coordinate their jumps such that they perform the exact same moves while reaching the exact same height? Yes, please! Synchronized trampoline actually exists, in exhibition format, and while it’s been discussed as a potential Olympic event, it hasn’t happened yet—much to the dismay of aspiring USA synchro teammates Dooley and Gluckstein, who will have to content themselves for now with peddling their good-natured ethnic comedy routines on the vaudeville circuit (I’m assuming).
Gymnastics: In the words of emailer Allison: “One guy doing a still rings routine: badass. Two guys doing a synchronized still ring routine: totally effing badass!” To that self-evidently true statement, I can only add: One guy doing a handstand on a balance beam: badass. Ten guys doing handstands on the same balance beam: TOTALLY EFFING BADASS! I dare you to disagree.
Archery: Let’s have a dozen archers shoot at once, and judge them on the similarity of each arrow’s arc, speed, and proximity to the bull’s-eye. For an added challenge, they could also have to sing the theme song from Robin Hood: Men in Tights in unison.
Basketball: This could actually be really awesome. Imagine if the USA hoops squad had to perform a tightly choreographed routine of synchronized dunks, free throws, and three-man-weaves. Actually, this just sounds like a Harlem Globetrotters routine. But who wouldn’t want to see the Globetrotters in the Olympics?
Equestrian: I, for one, would tune in to see several horses clearing the same obstacles at the exact same time. Like synchronized trampoline, this really exists, more or less, in a dressage format called quadrille, which is apparently awe-inspiring when performed well, and hazardous when performed poorly. (One article asks “Quadrille? Or Equestrian Demolition Derby? You Decide.”) Sounds like a ratings bonanza!
Thanks for the question, Allison! The rest of you should feel free to send me some more, or leave your thoughts in the comments.