SANTIAGO, Chile — Raphaelle Plante didn't have previous experience in gymnastics or diving, but the athlete does both when her Canadian teammates catapult her out of the water and into the air.
An acrobatic routine making its Olympic debut next year in Paris has been added to artistic swimming's traditional technical and free routines to inject more wow into the sport.
"It really draws in the crowd more since we're throwing people," Calgary's Jonnie Newman said Friday in Santiago, Chile, after Canada collected Pan American Games team bronze.
"It's just about pure power and how much your team can be one and throw that person up in the air."
Acrobatic routines three minutes long are scored on the execution of seven moves from four groups: airborne, balance, combined, platform.
"The thing is, with our sport, it's sometimes hard for the public to understand and the acrobatic routine has a very big wow factor," said Kerri Morgan, the artistic team's chief sport officer. "So even if you know nothing about the sport, you can watch it and go 'wow.'"
In acrobatics, the Canadian squad is divided into pushers and flyers. Quebec's Plante hasn't been a flyer long.
"You get great pictures," she said with a laugh. "You also have to really trust your team under you. You have a job to do, but it's teamwork.
"If it doesn't work under you, you have to make it work as if nothing happened and find balance so the judges don't take marks off."
Her dryland training includes trampoline and working with a diving coach, while Newman hits the weights as a pusher.
"I always have the girl on top of my head," she said. "In the gym. I'm constantly doing shoulder mobility and heavy weights above my head to work on having a human on top of me."
Canada's acrobatic routine Friday performed to music by 50 Cent and Eminem adds another thick layer to a training program.
"It's very complicated, actually, because you're changing the whole structure of your program," Morgan said. "That acrobatic routine requires really explosive power, so it's different set of muscles, different set of skills.
"So you're working a lot in the gym, you're working a lot in the pool. We've got acrobatic coaches, aerial coaches, teaching them skills they've never done before."
The addition of an acrobatic component is part of artistic swimming changes that include a new scoring system this year. The limit of 100 points has been scrapped.
The United States scored 236 points for its acrobatic routine Friday, but was edged by just over a point by Mexico for both gold and Olympic qualification for Paris with better technical and free routine scores.
Canada's team of Pan Am rookies ranked third through all three phases.
Canada won gold in both duet and team at the past three Pan American Games in 2011, 2015 and 2019, but it's been a tumultuous three years for Artistic Swimming Canada.
Former athletes alleged in a 2021 lawsuit against the national governing body that it failed to provide a safe environment.
ASC and head coach Gabor Szauder parted company in June of this year, with Morgan stepping in to coach the team in Santiago.
"We think we have accomplished so much," Newman said. "We were just going for together swims and trying to hit a new level because our team for the past six months has gone through a lot of crap I'm going to say."
Canada's artistic swim team now needs to finish among the top five countries at February's world aquatic championships in Doha, Qatar to qualify for Paris.
"There is no way I can make people understand how proud of am of this team. We've had a lot of turmoil in the last year," Morgan said. "As of mid-September, this is a new team and new coaching staff.
"I was really hoping, and we have succeeded, that I would take this amazing team and build a very strong team culture. Our hashtag is fit, confident, able. This is a team to watch."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov 3, 2023.
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press