July 2024

Swimming Pretty

By Vicki Valosik
Vicki Valosik’s captivating Swimming Pretty charts the evolution of women’s swimming and aquatic performance.
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It’s been 40 years since synchronized swimming was accepted as an Olympic discipline, and Vicki Valosik’s Swimming Pretty: The Untold Story of Women in Water is an excellent way to celebrate the anniversary. 

In her introduction, the author—a masters synchronized swimmer herself—recounts her own history with the sport. Curiosity drew her to a class at her local pool, and there she found swimmers several decades her senior who “were all as graceful as mermaids and generously set about teaching me, the beginner, the foundational body positions and propulsion techniques of synchronized swimming.” As her lung capacity increased, her confidence grew and the central question of Swimming Pretty surfaced: “Are we athletes first or are we performers? Is what we are doing a sport or is it entertainment?” 

Esther Williams may have been the best known synchronized swimmer thanks to her groundbreaking Hollywood career, but in this captivating, multifaceted book, Valosik reveals that Williams was preceded (and followed) by a long line of skilled and talented women. Together, these women helped to change everything from safety practices to swimsuit design, embodying women’s strength and artistry along the way.

Just a couple centuries ago, Valosik explains, swimming was only for men, including Benjamin Franklin, who practiced “scientific swimming” in the early 1700s. In the 1800s, women were permitted to join the water scene when “ornamental swimming” in tanks became popular entertainment. Australian swimming champion and stuntwoman Annette Kellerman became famous in early 1900s American vaudeville and has often been called “the mother of synchronized swimming.” 

Interest in the sport remained strong through the decades, surging after exhibitions in various 1930s world’s fairs and Williams’ midcentury “aquamusicals.” When synchronized swimming debuted at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984, it was a cause for celebration and, competitors hoped, a turning point. Valosik writes, “they had finally made it and were eager to show the world not what synchronized swimming once was, but what it had become.” 

Although the sport has since gone global, areas of debate remain, including its 2017 name change to “artistic swimming” and the addition of male competitors in 2024. Thanks to Valosik’s extensive research and gift for illustrating the ways in which her titular women in water have influenced history, culture and athletics, readers surely will be inspired to view synchronized swimming in a new light—and perhaps even attempt a “rocket split bent knee twirl hybrid” themselves.  

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Swimming Pretty

Swimming Pretty

By Vicki Valosik
ISBN 9781324093046

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