- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Charlotte Davis has been sitting on a folding chair at the edge of the Bellevue (Wash.) Athletic Club's 50-meter pool for two hours, and her eyes are beginning to glaze over. She is now staring at a foot as it emerges, toes pointed, from the water. The swimmers churning out laps in adjacent lanes don't appear to notice as the foot continues to rise, revealing, at last, an entire leg. A second leg then sloooowly lifts from its horizontal position and lines up with the first one. Davis, 38, stifles a yawn. All this intense concentration is exhausting. Now the legs gradually begin to separate, moving symmetrically until they're in a full-split position.
Finally, after more than a minute underwater, Tracie Ruiz-Conforto, 25, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in both the solo and duet synchronized swimming events and the U.S. entrant in the solo at the '88 Seoul Games, completes the figure—called a subilarc, open 180 degrees—bobs to the surface of the pool, removes her nose clip and looks inquiringly at her coach.
"O.K., that lift was good," Davis says. "However, there was a slight bobble at the top, and your shoulders rotated a little too much. Let's do it again."
Ruiz-Conforto sinks beneath the surface and repeats the maneuver. It is one of 36 figures—bearing names like Eiffel Tower, albatross, castle and elevator—that she will have to perfect before the Sept. 26 start of the synchronized swimming competition in Seoul. As in figure skating, competitors are judged on required figures, or compulsories, and a choreographed routine; in synchro, the figures and routine account for 55% and 45% of the scoring, respectively. The 36 figures are broken down into six groups of six; the judges then choose one group at random, and those six figures are performed by each competitor.
"Whoever wins figures at Seoul will win the gold medal," Ruiz-Conforto says with a sigh. That's why she spends much of her life upside down in a swimming pool; since coming out of retirement in September 1986, she has devoted three to five hours a day, six days a week, just to figures.
"This is one of the tougher figures," Davis says of the subilarc, open 180, which is assigned a 2.2 degree of difficulty—2.4 being the most difficult. "This is one of the ones that'll separate the men from the boys." In a manner of speaking, of course, since synchro is predominantly a women's sport.
It is also a sport that has been much maligned. Many people seem to think synchro competitors are a bunch of overly made-up twinkies who float around a pool doing easy ballet-type movements. They should think again. While researching a story on Ruiz-Conforto recently, a newspaper reporter watched a videotape of her 3½-minute solo routine. The reporter asked her how deep the pool was. When Ruiz-Conforto told him she was performing in about nine feet of water, he exclaimed, "You mean, you're not touching the bottom of the pool?"
The fact is, synchronized swimming requires grace and endurance, including the ability to hold your breath underwater for long periods of time while executing difficult maneuvers. (When NBC-TV went to Seattle to film a "Profiles" segment last June, Susan Adams wanted to know just how long Ruiz-Conforto could hold hers. Ruiz-Conforto took a stopwatch, sat on the lawn in her backyard and went breathless for two minutes and 25 seconds.)
In training for this demanding sport, Ruiz-Conforto is a perfectionist, but Davis exceeds even her high standards. "My husband says Tracie and I have tunnel vision," says Davis. "In this sport you have to be perfect, or as close to perfect as you can be."
Ruiz-Conforto tries the subilarc, open 180 again and goes into the split. But Davis sees something amiss.