While there is evidence of swimmers performing ballet-like maneuvers in the water in ancient times, the origin of Artistic swimming as an organized, competitive sport dates to earlier this century. In the 1920s, a group of Canadian women, led by national caliber water polo player and diver Margaret Sellers, developed what they called 'ornamental swimming’ from life saving and swimming techniques.
Originally known as water ballet, Artistic swimming began in Canada in the 1920s. It spread to the United States in the early '30s, where a display at the 1934 Chicago World's Fair drew rave reviews. Its popularity soared further when Esther Williams performed in a string of MGM "aqua musicals" in the 1940s and '50s.
Over the next 20 years the sport grew, became very technical and athletic, music was added to the routines, and the name changed to “Synchronized Swimming”. The name recently changed to "Artistic Swimming" and now features six events:
- Team (eight swimmers)
- Free Combination (often called “combo”, this event is a combination of team, duet and solo in one routine performed by 10 swimmers)
- Highlight Team (first introduced at the 2009 World Trophy and presented for the first time in a World Cup this year in Quebec City, the Highlight Team competition is extremely spectacular and features intricate patterns and figures as well as jaw-dropping highlights performed by 10-member teams)
- Mixed Duet (this event has not yet been performed in an official FINA competition but has just recently been voted in as a new event. It will feature a man and a woman performing a duet routine and will be an official event at the upcoming FINA World Aquatic Championships in Kazan, Russia, in 2015)
Canadians have continued to be leaders in developing the sport. The inaugural world championships were held in 1973 in Belgrade, and the sport first appeared on the Olympic Games program in 1984. The team event replaced the solo and duet events at the 1996 Olympic Games. At the 2000 Olympic Games, the duet event was returned to the program.
For many years, Artistic Swimming has been Canada's most successful amateur sport. Artistic Swimming athletes have medaled in every World Championships between 1973 and 2001 with the exception of 1998, and every Olympic Games between 1984 and 2000.
Since 2008, Canada has shown encouraging results on the World stage as it strives to close the gap with the world’s top nations. At the 2009 FINA World Aquatic Championships, Canada won two medals, its first podium finishes at the event since 2001. At the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico, Canada won the gold medals in the team and duet events, earning its qualifications for the 2012 Olympics. In 2012 in London, it came very close to a podium finish with two 4th place results in the team and duet events. More recently, Canada earned a silver medal in the Highlight Team event at the FINA World Cup in Québec City in October 2014.
Artistic Swimming Canada is a member of the Aquatics Federation of Canada, which falls under FINA (Fédération internationale de natation).