Budapest 2022 will mark the last FINA World Championships with an age-old scoring system that has left artistic swimmers sometimes surprised by marginal differences.
BUDAPEST (Hungary) – Artistic swimming is about to become faster, higher, stronger – and clearer – thanks to an imminent new scoring system likely to take effect next year.
Coaches, officials, and athletes are calling it the biggest change in the history of the discipline because it will make the scoring much more objective.
“If you ask a judge now, ‘What’s the difference between an 8.3 and an 8.4?’ it’s difficult to explain,” said Ana Montero, a member of the FINA Innovation Committee that developed the system. In the future, she said, “when you come to a competition, you will be able to understand why this was better than that.”
Next year, the sport will scrap its traditional method of using 15 judges to score three components worth different percentages. Instead, 10 judges will rate two components worth equal value (artistic impression and execution). In addition, the difficulty of each routine will be mathematically calculated in advance and a technical control group will check for errors and make deductions based on the severity of the flaws.
“From now on, it’s gonna be fair,” said US head coach Andrea Fuentes, who won four Olympic medals for Spain as an athlete. “Every movement will have a value. The coach will have to think a lot about what is useful and what is not, without killing the creativity. I’m very excited because now I can use strategy.”
“You really have to know your athletes and measure well their capability,” added Canada’s head coach Gabor Szauder, who looks forward to the change.
The new system should also make the final rankings less predictable. It will allow coaches to strategically change their routines between the preliminaries and the final – opting to add difficulty if the score is close – just as long as each movement is declared in advance so officials can determine the base value of the routine.
There will no longer be a maximum score (of 100), and last-minute decision-making could also make it more interesting to fans.
But still, training approximately 250 elite judges (as well as domestic ones around the world) is a gargantuan task – one that Szauder pointed out, will require the technical control experts charged with seeing that each declared movement is performed correctly to be “people with very-very high knowledge and experience who can read choreography. They can’t make a mistake,” he said.
Asked whether certain moves might disappear while others will become more prevalent based on point value, Fuentes, Montero, and Szauder all said no. Rather, Fuentes said, it won’t be so much about which movement swimmers do, it will be a matter of: “How much higher? How much faster? And how much stronger,” echoing the Olympic motto. “It makes a lot of sense. I don’t know how we didn’t think of this idea before.”
So why now?
“Why not?” said Lisa Schott, chairwoman of FINA’s Technical Committee for artistic swimming. In addition to finally allowing athletes to precisely identify areas of improvement, she said, “our athletes deserve a system that allows them to create world records.”
Federations still have to vote on the changes at the artistic swimming technical congress on October 3 but, Schott said, “None of this is a surprise. We’ve tried to be globally consultive throughout the process.
The system has already undergone five years of research and development involving experts in mathematics, biomechanics, and sports science, as well as athletes, coaches, judges, and more.
“We’ve tried to be very inclusive throughout the process,” said Schott, who’s had the vision to change the scoring since she became the chairwoman in 2017.
“Will we roll it out perfectly? Probably not,” Schott said. But we’re allowing ourselves to adjust as we go. We also talked to figure skating and gymnastics federations EXTENSIVELY. Their advice to us is: you’ll make mistakes. Just make sure in your rules, you’re allowed to adjust.
“And that’s what we’ve done.”