Lessons in the News: Synchronized Swimming

3 teen synchro swimmers faint, at same time

[City] Synchronized Swim Team members pass out during practice

NORTHWEST – [date]: It was a close call for three teenagers who were swimming at the indoor pool at [name] State Park Monday afternoon.

The pool was full of kids at the time, but for some reason, the three girls who were practicing synchronized swimming at the deep end of the pool all fainted and went under at the same time.

Rescuers performed CPR on one teenager and rescue-breathing on two others. All three patients, who are between 12 and 15 years old, were resuscitated and taken to [suburb]’s [name] Hospital.

“I saw the synch coach jump in with all her clothes on, which is very unusual,” said [name], lifeguard. “She came out of the water and was holding a girl that was completely blue.” The three girls, who are part of the [city] Synchronized Swim Team, were practicing synchronized swimming when they passed out at the deep end of the pool.

Witnesses said while the three girls were being resuscitated, another girl and the mother of one of the three girls went into shock.

All five were transported to the hospital.

Some members of the [city] Synchronized Swim Team have competed in the Olympics. Officials said part of their training is learning how to hold their breath for long periods of time.

“I’ve been involved in the club for 12 years and I’ve only seen one time a swimmer pass out from holding their breath,” [team president]. The Fire Department has asked [name] County Health to check out the chlorine levels of the pool to see if the chemical might have caused the girls to faint.

Two of the girls were admitted at [name] Hospital, the third was transported to [name] in [city].

Health Department Investigating Faintings At [Suburb] Pool

NORTHWEST – [date]: Three teenage girls nearly drowned at a pool at a [suburb] park during a practice for their swimming club Monday night, reported [TV news].

The girls, ages 11, 12 and 13 years old, simultaneously fainted and went under while swimming in the deep end of the public pool at [name] Park on the north side of [lake].

The girls were attending practice for the [City] Synchronized Swimming Club and were practicing holding their breath when the accident occurred, team leaders said.

Others around the indoor pool said they felt faint and dizzy, and fire officials asked the [city-county] Public Health Department to check the chlorine level in the pool following the episode on Monday.

The girls had been in the pool about 15 minutes when they began having difficulty, head coach [name] said.

“One of them was hanging on a rope and a coach saw her slip under water,” team president [name] said. “The coach jumped in and pulled her out, then looked back and saw two other girls on the bottom of the pool.”

A lifeguard and another coach aided in the rescue.

A fourth girl swam to the side of the pool and said she was dizzy and unsure where she was or how she got there, and the mother of a team member blacked out after bending over the water, [team president] said.

The three girls who passed out were under water less than a minute before receiving cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and all three were breathing and conscious by the time emergency aid crews arrived, the team president said.

As a precaution, two spent the night at [name] Hospital Medical Center in [suburb] and the other was at [name] Hospital in [city].

The drill was “basically a warm-up” that the girls had been doing for months, and older teammates who had been swimming laps at the same time complained that their hands tingled, [swim coach] said.

“From the preliminary findings, it appears there were some high chemical levels at the pool,” [swim coach] said. “We’re at the height of our season and the girls are in great physical shape. This was a very fluke thing.”

[Team president] said air at the pool was tested and did not appear to be abnormal, but [swim coach] said tests indicated unusual chemical levels in the water.

There were about 20 people in the pool at the time of the accident.

[Organization] Swim Team is in Synch

NORTHEAST – [date]: The [name] synchronized swim team, the [name] are bringing home the medals in spring meets.

Championship results: The team won three of four events and the high point’s trophy at the East Zone Junior Championship. They placed fourth in team, fifth in duet, and sixth and 10th in trio at the East Zone Senior Championship. At this meet, the [name] were competing against teams from [five Northeastern states].

Team members are: [name], a co-captain and a senior at [name] High School; [name], co-captain, a senior at [second] High School; [name], a senior at [second]

High School; [name], junior at [third] High School; [name], a sophomore at [second] High School; [name], a sophomore at [fourth] School; [name], a sophomore at [fifth] High School; and [name], a freshman at [sixth] High School.

Coach’s quote: “The girls are incredibly driven to work toward our next goal of defending last season’s seventh-place national ranking at this year’s Age Group National Championship in June, as well as competing at the U.S. Open in July. With over 60 athletes of all ages competing as [name], we’ve established ourselves as a major competitive force in the East Zone, while instilling the core values of the [name] in our athletes,” assistant coach [name] said.

What we know: 

  • Later reports revealed that the swim coach’s supposition (second article above) was incorrect—there was nothing amiss with the water quality in the multiple victim incident—chlorine and other chemical levels were all within normal parameters
  • Many camps are involved in synchronized swimming training, performances and competitions
  • Synchronized swimming is a sport that utilizes dynamic hypoxic training
  • Shallow-water blackout is a dangerous phenomenon that is closely associated with dynamic or static hypoxic training in combination with intentional hyperventilating and frequently involves highly skilled, excellently conditioned athletes
  • Breath-holding in synchronized swimming is not as long as that normally associated with shallow-water blackout and does not involve intentional hyperventilating

What we don’t know:

  • Whether these three girls’ incident was related to informal competition at the time of the incident, physical factors in the pool (though the water was tested and found to be within appropriate parameters), or some other cause or causes
  • Why shallow-water blackouts are predominately a male phenomena—(though a young girl was involved in a fatal breath-holding game in a facility pool)
  • Why synchronized swimming has had so few incidents:
    • because of the gender bias of the population
    • because of the duration of the controlled breathing
    • because of the lack of hyperventilating

What must be remembered: 

  • Hypoxic training has been proven to be dangerous—and has not been proven to be efficacious
  • Breath-holding should be banned in your pools
  • There is a difference between breath-holding and controlled breathing in the aquatic environment
    • Breath-holding involves intentional hyperventilating immediately before starting an activity and basically going until your body forces you to breath again—often with disastrous results
    • Controlled breathing is an ongoing process—optimal use of available breaths during a continued activity; it may mean breathing less frequently, but there is no opportunity for intentional hyperventilating because of the on-going nature of the activity
    • Synchronized swimming routines are superb examples of controlled breathing—a well done routine portrays effortless grace, just the opposite of hyperventilating exertion
    • Swim team sprinters use controlled breathing the last 25 yards of a race to reduce friction and increase speed—but there is no opportunity for hyperventilating in the middle of a race
  • Improperly worded protocols can create trouble in the legal system
    • Review synchronized swimming and swim team protocols
    • Ensure that protocols term controlled breathing as such—don’t set up an opposing attorney by using improper terminology that you may not get the chance to explain or correct on a witness stand
  • Breath-hold games are not games, they are gambling with peoples’ lives
    • You are responsible for what happens in your pools
    • Position your guards for success, not failure
    • Do not allow activities that endangers people’s lives