Synchronised swimmer just keeps swimming in perfectly timed grace

Synchronised swimmer just keeps swimming in perfectly timed grace

Sure, synchronised swimming is largely about showmanship, but it also requires incredible strength and grace

Michelle Lau Hoi-ting knows a thing or two about grace under pressure. She's a ballet dancer, a gymnast and an athletic swimmer. She needs grace, elegance, poise and the ability to hold her breath and keep going even when under water.

But this triple threat - she also sings and acts in school - is also a fierce competitor. And her favourite sport is one that combines all three of her talents: synchronised swimming.

The 16-year-old student from Yew Chung International School has been competing for almost 10 years. This highly technical sport is a mixture of dance, swimming and acrobatics, which makes it perfect given Michelle's background and talents.

"I would have to say that as a dancer, I am definitely [at an advantage] in terms of flexibility and expressive facial expressions," she says. Because synchronised swimmers don't just have to incredible athletes, they need to put on a great show as well.

And this sense of showmanship is what Michelle loves most about the sport. "I love the fact that as a synchronised swimmer, we can play with our hair," she admits, "… while putting on our most dramatic kind of make-up on our faces."

But don't be fooled into thinking the sport is all about playing with beauty products - the athletic side is incredibly demanding as well. "I train three or four times a week for two hours or more," says Michelle. She says the muscle fatigue and strain can be difficult to overcome.

And impressing the judges can be a tough job. Michelle has won countless medals and trophies, and was named Outstanding Swimmer at the 5th Asia Pacific Open & Age Group Synchronised Swimming Championships, in Malaysia in 2013, but still felt the nerves in front of the judging panel when she competed in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea. She says that outshining other swimmers isn't her greatest challenge. "I'd say the panel of judges are my greatest threat, because they are the ones whom all teams want to impress the most."

Judges award points for according to different aspects of the routine, including artistic expression, difficulty, and execution of movements. Whether working with a team or performing solo, it can be nerve-racking to perform in front of such a critical group.

"But the thing that surprised me the most was that the [Asian Games] was not as scary as I thought it would be," says Michelle, who has her sights set on one day competing in the Olympics. She thought the last thing on her mind would be enjoying her time in the pool, especially in the Games' high-pressure environment, where she ranked sixth in the Free Team Routine Competition.

"When I stepped out to the platform and put on my best smile, I felt the audience encouraging me. And although I could not see every single person's face, it was really uplifting to hear them cheer for us, even though we [weren't from] their country."

Michelle says this kind of support is what synchronised swimming is all about. "In this sport, I wouldn't say we have a star player," she says. "We have to depend on others through trust and faith, and [so] I believe that all members in each team are equally important, whether you're above the water, being lifted out or underwater lifting someone else out. Everyone is important."


Bench Notes

Which song/movie title best describes you when you're playing your sport?
Human by Christina Perri

You can have any superpower you choose for 24 hours. What do you choose and how do you use this power?
I'd like to be able to hold my breath underwater for 24 hours, so I could use it during major team competitions. Or if I go out to the ocean, I'd [use] this superpower to dive into the deep depths of the sea and discover creatures and species that have never been found.

If you could have an unlimited supply of anything, what would it be and why?
An unlimited energy supply so that I won't feel fatigued in ballet and synchronising swimming and could perform much better in both activities. An unlimited energy supply would also make me more outgoing.

10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company do you sign-on as spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
Swimsuit and cosmetic companies. Synchronised swimmers need a lot of swimsuits for practice and competition, and we also need good waterproof cosmetics during competitions or performances.

As a spokesperson for these companies, I could promote their products to swimmers like me, as well as help to improve the company's products by giving them my professional opinions.

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Perfectly timed grace

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