By Sam Cortes, Communications Coordinator



Artistic swimming is one of the sports featured at the 2025 Canada Summer Games in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

But Team Toba Head Coach, Holly Hjartarson, says it’s really a whole bunch of sports rolled into one.

“We have the obviously artistic side that’s more like artistic gymnastics or dance. But then we do these moves that we call acrobatic moves, which are kind of like cheerleading stunts that we do in the water. And there’s obviously the speeds, like [the] swimming part of it, in the pool.”

On top of this, athletes have to demonstrate a strong stroke technique and be able to grab and manipulate the water to get height. 

“There’s a lot of breath control involved, because we’re upside down and doing things with our legs.”


How long can athletes hold their breath?

Holly says there’s been some major rule changes over the past two years, completely revamping the difficulty scale and evolving the sport.

“Before, judges would just give a score on difficulty for the whole routine based on what they thought the difficulty of the routine was. And there were guidelines though, of course, but it was really difficult to do. Now, we’ve changed to a system that’s kind of a bit more like diving or figure skating, where you’re declaring the difficulty of the moves that you’re doing. And then the judges are giving an execution score on that.”

They’re also given guidelines for how long the athletes can be underwater.

“In the junior free routine, which is the age category that will be competing at the Canada Games, they can be underwater for up to two minutes of a three-and-a-half-minute routine.”


The nuances of a routine

Artistic swimming used to be called synchronized swimming, and, as you may guess, synchronization is a big key in the overall score.

“The more synchronized your routine is, the better it is.”

But then there’s the little things you might not even notice unless you’re trained in the sport.

“If [the athletes] go up, and one goes up and flexes their feet, while the other one goes up and points a foot and then flexes it..” that would be an error.

Something perhaps more obvious is the height the athlete is able to get out of the water.

“If there’s an acrobatic move that is really high, then it’s really impressive, and that’s a way that athletes get a higher score.”


A Summer Games debut

This is the first year artistic swimming will be a part of the Summer Games as opposed to the Winter Games. 

The training in the winter created a really high demand, because athletes would be doing their regular club training to train on the routines they were going to be swimming for qualifiers, nationals, and camps, and additional training with the provincial team to be able to keep up with that routine, too.

“[Games] being in the summer now, our selection process can be a lot later, we can do our final selection after nationals.”

What does that mean for the team? Ultimately, more strategically focused time to train and bond once school and club season is over.

“Then we have the summer to train together. And that time—June, July, August— is enough time to really form that team to work on the choreography to have everybody know what their spots are in this routine.”

“It makes the season longer for the athletes, but it makes it a lot easier for their load in terms of their training to be more manageable.” 


What it takes to prepare 

Artistic swimming athletes have to have strength and endurance to be able to maintain their height throughout a routine. 

This requires flexibility training outside of the pool, as well as strength and conditioning.

In the pool, Holly works with her athletes on building and perfecting routines, which is where the spark happens.

“[That] is a bit of that team-building already, like the actual choreography building side of things, it is definitely a favourite of the athletes. They enjoy doing that a lot.”

Once the team is selected at the end of May or early June next year, there will be more team building that happens outside of the pool as well, whether it’s getting together for dinner and team outings to get to know each other more.


‘Daring’ team values

As part of a task for her advanced coaching diploma, Holly developed a step-by-step guide to creating a winning team culture. 

“It’s a lot of work in terms of, sitting down and really coming together, about what our individual values are. And what that means is their values to the team. And how we want to celebrate that within our team.”

For example, one year, her team liked “daring” as one of their values – they wanted to take risks, they wanted to put themselves out there. 

“So they had a swim cap that was a funky colour. And each practice someone different would wear the cap.”

That athlete would then watch the practice to see which one of her teammates was taking risks and going outside their comfort zone.

“And then she would award that cap to that teammate for the next practice. So, they were constantly trying to celebrate each other and celebrate what their team values were.”

For Team Toba, Holly doesn’t know what those values are going to be just yet, and she’s excited to learn what they are and celebrate that on a daily basis within the training environment.


Multi-sport moments

Artistic swimming hasn’t had a provincial team compete since 2019. Holly is excited to see the progress Manitoba has had over six years. 

Normally, it’s every four years they get this opportunity at a national multi-sport stage, and she says having this six years has been a long, long haul. 

“I’ve seen so much improvement in the athletes and in the culture of our sport within the province and how, as a province, we’ve really come together, so it’ll be really exciting to see how that plays out.”