Synchronised swimmers pirouette in the pool

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The graceful figures expertly perform an array of splits, twirls, pirouettes and even lifts to the beat of the music.

Such moves would be difficult enough on dry land – but these are taking place in a swimming pool at HMS Temeraire in Portsmouth.

The girls from the under-12 A competition team displaying some of their synchronised swimming skills.

The girls from the under-12 A competition team displaying some of their synchronised swimming skills.

Synchronised swimming is a sport that used to be known as water ballet and it’s easy to see why.

Above and below the water, the moves are choreographed and extremely graceful.

Someone who knows a lot about the skills required for synchronised swimming is Helen Morris, 25, head coach at Portsmouth Victoria Synchronised Swimming Club.

Helen, who lives in Southsea, used to be a synchronised swimmer herself but recently moved into coaching.

She says: ‘I used to train in Reading and even had the chance to train with the GB squad.

‘But after two years of intense training with them, I decided to move into coaching.’

Back in 2011, Sport England provided funds for more coaches and Portsmouth Victoria was lucky enough to be one of the chosen few.

Helen explains: ‘I really enjoy coaching here – it’s a very friendly club.

‘I love being able to give something back to the sport and watching the girls grow is a fantastic feeling.

‘We have about 70 members who range in age from six-18.

‘All of the members are split between five squads.

‘Squads will compete in competitions and we also have two solo synchronised swimmers who will perform skills and a routine by themselves.’

There is no question that athletes need determination and motivation to continue their training.

Fitness is a top priority and is something that people often assume is the easiest part.

Synchronised swimmers require stamina and an intensive training programme is essential.

A synchronised swimming routine has been compared to sprinting for four minutes while holding your breath for two-thirds of it.

Helen adds: ‘Our competitive swimmers do at least 20 hours of training a week and recreational swimmers will do a bit less.

‘However, we are now in the competition season and training will be increased to ensure everyone is at the best possible standard.

‘Members will be swimming most evenings during the week and also on the weekend.

‘It is a full-on programme and it is a massive strain on everyone.

‘But they all live and breathe synchronised swimming and enjoy it too much to give up.’

She adds: ‘All of the members learn the routines on land before they are practiced in the pool and we also get them doing flexibility and strengthening sessions during the week,’

Back in 2012 synchronised swimming received lottery funding and the GB team came sixth in the Olympics.

But earlier this year UK Sport cut the funding for synchronised swimming to zero.

Helen, who featured in the A League of Their Own TV show synchronised swimming episode, says: ‘We used to get a lot of funding but it was decided that it would not be a medal-winning sport [in 2016] and 100 per cent of the money was cut.

‘This has made things a lot harder as now we are a self-sufficient club and we have to hold events to raise the money needed to keep the club alive.

‘It is really hard to see children with such potential but no opportunity to go further because it is not financially possible.’

Helen adds: ‘Trying to keep the girls motivated is difficult when the future of the sport is so unsure.

‘It has also affected me as I used to be a full-time coach, but due to the cut in funding and other factors, I am now a part-time coach.

‘I think that small sports should receive funding to have the possibility to succeed. But right now it is a battle that we have to face alone.’

Someone who has managed to succeed in synchronised swimming is Robyn Stanhope. Robyn, 15, from Farlington, has been attending sessions at Portsmouth Victoria since she was eight.

She says: ‘I have always enjoyed being in the water and after my first session I fell in love with the sport.

‘I am also part of the England Junior Talent Squad and have competed in Croatia.

‘I really enjoy being part of the national squad as it challenges me to learn skills that I might not have done before. I hope to continue at a high standard as my dream would be compete in the Olympics.’


At a glance

Portsmouth Victoria Synchronised Swimming Club

WHEN: Beginner sessions take place every Saturday.

WHERE: Eastney Swimming Pool at 2pm.

HOW MUCH? First session is free.


Hayley Clanfield, 46, from Lee-on-the-Solent has a daughter who is a member at the club.

She is also a volunteer team leader for the Under 12 A team.

She says: ‘ My daughter Lucy started at Victoria Synchronised Swimming Club in November and since then she has learned so much.

‘She does have a very busy schedule and because she is in the competition team, she has more training sessions than others.

‘Lucy also does speed swimming so that’s even more training sessions on top!

‘It is difficult to make sure that she is in the right place at the right time, but that’s what parents do and when I see how much fun she has I can’t stop bringing her.

‘I am a volunteer coach and the club relies on volunteers to keep it running.

‘This is all to do with the funding being cut which is such a shame.

‘Parents have to fund their children to go to the training sessions and then there are competitions on top.

‘This year Lucy will be competing all the way up in Scotland, so we will be going for the weekend.

‘Fortunately I can afford for Lucy to continue with her swimming, but for others it’s not so easy and this is so sad to see, especially when lots of girls have such huge potential.’

Annie Stanhope, 48, from Farlington also has a daughter in the club.

Annie says: ‘I am one of the volunteer coaches for the club and I got involved when my daughter started swimming.

‘I think a lot of parents don’t realise how much the club depends on them to ensure it runs smoothly.

‘It is such a shame that the club doesn’t get any funding and the club has to fit fundraising events around school, training and all the other commitments.

‘The club is great and all the girls enjoy coming to the training sessions, they make friends and learn new skills.

‘My daughter Robyn loves coming her and she has learned so much.

‘It’s fantastic to see her progress.’

Betty Slssingar, 60, from Waterlooville is one of the volunteer coaches at Portsmouth Victoria Synchronised Swimming Club.

She says: ‘I have been helping out here for nearly 24 years and it is the variety of the sport that has kept me interested. I love teaching all of the different aspects there are to the sport.

‘It is a great way to meet new people and travel around the country.

‘I first got involved with the Portsmouth Victoria Synchronised Swimming Club as my daughters used to be members and then coaches.

‘Synchro swimming is a sport that is difficult to get into because it is not seen on a regular basis and now the funding has been cut it will be even more difficult.

‘It’s such a small sport that it is hard for synchronised swimmers to go any higher than a club level. It is a shame that this is the case as we have a lot of girls who have huge potential, but because there isn’t a great future for them in the sport, they drop out and find a new career path to follow.’