Siren Collaborator Mary Konstantopoulos speaks to artistic swimmer, Amie Thompson, about how the sport won her over and her hopes to bring more fans in.
Before I introduce you all to artistic swimmer Amie Thompson, I want to set the record straight on two frequently asked questions.
First of all it’s artistic swimming. Not synchronised swimming. The proposed name change from synchronised to artistic swimming was passed in 2017 at the International Swimming Federation Congress in July 2017.
And yes, the athletes can hear the music underwater. There are special underwater speakers which the team use while training. In fact, the Australian team plays music consistently through their training sessions and really thrive on having music on all the time.
Now back to Thompson.
Thompson grew up in the United Kingdom, participating in a variety of sports including gymnastics and swimming. She wasn’t passionate about either sport and according to Thompson, she doesn’t think she was very good at either of them either. This is quite incredible given the sport that she eventually picked.
Then a family friend suggested that Thompson try synchronised swimming (as it was known at the time).
“It was a great suggestion because I kept seeing the synchronised swimmers in the adjacent pool to my swimming training and I was mesmerised by what they were doing,” said Thompson.
“From day one it took my heart.”
From there, Thompson continued to participate in synchronised swimming recreationally and then when she moved to Australia at age 12, she began to train properly. The skills she had struggled to develop while doing gymnastics, like flexibility, balance and coordination, came with practice.
“All of those skills have come because I have fallen in love with this sport and fallen in love with this type of movement,” she says.
“I work very hard at it, it certainly didn’t come naturally.”
Given Thompson’s commitment to synchronised swimming it meant that as a teenager, she was juggling her training with her education. At times this was tricky and a struggle. But fortunately, Thompson had the support of her parents who encouraged her to continue with synchronised swimming while still remaining committed to her studies.
“My parents always said that if my marks started to drop, then synchronised swimming would be the first thing to go,” said Thompson.
“That was really good motivation to stay on top of everything.”
Not only did her parents’ ultimatum help Thompson to become very good at managing her time, but so did her natural disposition as a ‘high-achiever’.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to do my best in everything that I do,” said Thompson.
That commitment has meant that not only has Thompson been able to continue with her chosen sport, she’s also pursuing her studies at the same time.
“I’m studying engineering and I’m doing a double major; one in renewable energy and the other is in environmental energy,” she says.
“I want to combine the two at some point. A lot of innovative projects are being considered around the world including one where waste is being converted into energy.”
Given Thompson’s long association with artistic swimming, she has certainly heard plenty of criticism about the sport, including frequent suggestions that it ‘isn’t a real sport’ and ‘shouldn’t be included in the Olympics’.
To people with that point of view, Thompson offers the following perspective.
“I say, ‘come and try the sport’ or at least try to get to know me a little bit better,” she says.
“A lot of people who first meet me try and engage me in that sort of conversation and will tell me that it isn’t a sport or that it shouldn’t be in the Olympics, but slowly, as people get to know me, they realise how much we train and just how much effort we put into it.
“I love watching people’s opinion of the sport change just after watching us and seeing what we can do in the water.”
While artistic swimming may still be a relatively small sport in Australia, Thompson hopes that this will change over time.
The squad has recently had a change of coach. Lolli Montico was appointed Australian National Head Coach last year, but has been based overseas. Montico has only just arrived in Australia, is completing her mandatory quarantine and will shortly join the squad.
Additionally, Thompson is confident that with greater exposure for the sport, investment in marketing and advertising will come. As the national team continues to progress and improve, that will also help with the profile of the sport.
With that added exposure, Thompson is confident that people will come to love the sport just as she did when she was a child.
“It’s a really beautiful mix of everything. It is artistic and it is technical,” said Thompson.
“You have to be strong, flexible and creative all at the same time. You also have to perform and remain focused on your technique.
“It is a combination of everything and that’s just one of the reasons that the sport has my heart.”