(Reuters) - Cirque du Soleil performer Bill May sneaked peaks at the synchronized swimming competitions in Rio on his phone during makeup sessions and costume changes at the Las Vegas show.
But May is not just a fan smitten by the discipline’s seemingly impossible underwater twists, graceful lifts out of the pool and sequin-studded costumes.
May, a synchronized swimmer who won gold at the World Championships technical mixed duets last year with partner Christina Jones, longed to be in the Rio pool himself but could not because mixed duets are not allowed at the Olympics.
Buoyed by their acceptance at the Championships last year, male synchronized swimmers such as May are now lobbying for an Olympic shake-up of the currently all-female discipline at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“There’s no way a sport can grow without including everyone. To exclude people ... it almost seems a little archaic,” said May, originally a gymnast who picked up synchronized swimming thanks to his sister.
Despite the push, it remains unclear if mixed duets will be included in the next Summer Games.
Swimming’s world governing body FINA said in an e-mail to Reuters it “has always proposed that the IOC align the Olympic program with the FINA World Championships program”, but added the decision is ultimately down to the International Olympic Committee.
A spokesperson for the IOC said the committee’s executive board would decide on event programs for Tokyo next year.
In any case, May’s female counterparts appear happy to let mixed duets test the water.
“Yes, I definitely think all sports need to be for everyone no matter what their sex is. And, God willing, there will be mixed duets in Tokyo and we’re going to cheer for it a lot,” said Brazilian synchronized swimmer Branca Feres, who competes with her twin Beatriz.
Still, there is some worry the inclusion of mixed duets could do away with the traditional pairing, or bring down the discipline’s quality.
“In mixed duets I would say there are only three nations performing on this high a level,” said Russia’s Natalia Ishchenko, who won gold medals in duets and team competitions in Rio.
“So naturally perhaps some time in the future it will happen, but perhaps right now it’s quite premature.”
May says the World Championships proved mixed duets can hold their own, and says no one should be excluded at the Olympics.
“I think there’s a place for everything,” the American said in a telephone interview.
Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Alison Williams