Don't call it synchro: Olympic artistic swimming team makes a splash in St. John's

An Olympic training team is in St. John's this week to prepare for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

The artistic swimmers spent time showing younger club members the ropes while practising their own routines.

"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for everyone involved," said Jennifer Folkes, the president of Newfoundland and Labrador Artistic Swimming.

The group is hosting the visiting swimmers for a week as they make a splash in the Aquarena in St. John's.

The bright lights of Tokyo may seem far away, but these athletes are starting their pool training early in the morning every day in anticipation of the Olympics. The trip also gives younger local swimmers a chance to learn from the best.

This is really the final stretch for us here, and we're super-super-excited. - Catherine Barrett

If artistic swimming seems like an unfamiliar phrase, it's because a change was made in 2017 to shift away from the term "synchronized swimming."

"I think the international federation was more concerned with trying to ensure that the sport was associated with the likes of artistic gymnastics or artistic figure skating, versus this sort of catch-all term of synchronized swimming," said Folkes.

"But we all still let 'synchro' slip."

Diving into a good opportunity 

Adam Walsh/CBC

The visit is part of a Canada-wide trip for the swim team.

"The Canadian Artistic Swimming Association asked whether there were any clubs available across Canada who would like to host the team for a week. They've been to Prince George, as well as to a club in Winnipeg," said Folkes.

She said that the athletes train for three hours in the pool every morning, and travel to the Paul Reynolds Community Centre and the Summit Centre in Mount Pearl in the afternoons to mentor kids.

Folkes said that the mentorship is hands-on.

"One athlete says, 'OK, do that' to the local swimmer. 'Here's how you do this exactly. Here's how I do it. Here's how I will swim it when I am in Tokyo,'" she said.

Giving back

One athlete, Catherine Barrett, is no stranger to St. John's.

Originally from the area, she sees the visit as a chance to give back to her community.

"Honestly, it's such a privilege to come back and work with the local athletes and just really work to inspire them, like I was inspired by the national team visiting me in 2011," she said.

"I just really see myself in all of them that come out."

Halle Pratt is a member of the team from Calgary. 

"All the girls are just very gung-ho, and it really gives you so much life when you come to the pool. They're watching, they're paying so much attention, and they're really eager to learn," she said.

Aside from training the next generation of swimmers, the team have their sights set on 2020.

"It seems like it's far away. But this is really the final stretch for us here, and we're super-super-excited," said Barrett.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.