Five-ring Circus

The 2004 Olympics

Diving, a new team sport.

Double trouble
Double trouble

When I turned on the Olympics this afternoon, I thought for a second that Hurricane Charley had made my television reception go screwy. The screen was blurry, with the image of a diver slowly spreading across the screen in super slow-motion. The NBC commentator explained that this was the “sync cam.” My eyes weren’t playing tricks on me. There were, in fact, two divers side-by-side.

Synchronized diving was added to the Summer Games roster in 2000. It’s hard to believe that there was really a big movement to bring this sport to the Olympics. I’ll give you synchronized swimming, even beach volleyball. But synchronized diving? Plain old unsynchronized diving is already just a gymnastics knock-off—the sport was born when 18th- and 19th-century gymnasts started jumping in the pool to perfect their moves. And come to think of it, synchronized swimming is just a knock-off of swimming and dancing. So, that makes synchronized diving a knock-off of a knock-off of a knock-off. What’s next, synchronized rhythmic ribbon diving?

At first, I thought synchronized diving was diving for the less-gifted—the water-based equivalent of ribbon dancing (the glorified dance routine for bad gymnasts immortalized by Will Ferrell in Old School) or ice dancing, the poor man’s pairs figure skating. But synchronized diving isn’t just diving for dullards. Frequently, the same divers compete both individually and in the pairs events. Today’s gold medal winners in the 3-meter springboard, Guo Jingjing and Wu Minxia from China, both won medals as individuals in Sydney.

Just because the synchronized events feature the world’s best divers doesn’t mean they should be on the Olympic docket. The only purpose for them, really, seems to be to give divers another chance at gold. After all, the addition of synchronized diving to the Olympic program practically doubled the number of diving events.

For fans, the only reason these events are mildly watchable is the technological wizardry of the sync cam. Progressive freeze frames bring every fault to light, allowing you to take your living-room couch judging to a new level. From this couch, the event gets an 8.0 for novelty, but a 2.0 for sustainability. By 2008, synchronized diving will be old news. Synchronized rhythmic ribbon diving—now, that’s the next big thing.